November 29, 2007
U.S. SET TO DEPORT GAY IRANIAN
I wrote the following article for Gay City News -- New York's largest lesbian and gay weekly newspaper -- which published it today:
Since November 7, this mild-mannered 40-year-old gay Iranian businessman from Rockville, Maryland has been sitting in jail in the Frederick County, Maryland Detention Center, housed with common criminals, in the living hell of limbo between the freedom he has known since he came to the United States as a young man 17 years ago and the certain persecution, imprisonment, or worse that will be his fate as a gay man if he is sent back to Iran.
A deportation order to send him back to Iran has been issued, and any day he could be put on a plane back to Tehran, where he was born.
"I am very afraid, and so very frustrated," Hassan Parhizkar told me in a truncated, collect telephone call from jail.
"My asylum request has never been before an immigration judge. I just don’t know what to do, I just don’t know what to do…" he added in a voice choked with tears.
"I work hard, I pay my taxes, and I live a quiet life without bothering anybody," Parhizkar told this reporter.
Parhizkar was arrested out of the blue earlier this month during a routine visit to an immigration office. He and his attorney explained that for the past five years he fully observed the terms of a supervised probation that stemmed from a 1999 deportation order, of which he was unaware until 2002 because he had the bad fortune of hiring, back in 1992, a man fraudulently presenting himself as a licensed attorney to pursue an asylum claim. And those five years of waiting were years of unspeakable dread.
Parhizkar said he has never been a burden on US taxpayers. When he came to this country, he joined his much older brother, who had emigrated to the US at the age of 17 and eventually opened a used car sales and repair business in which Parhizkar worked.
"My brother came to the US before the [1979 theocratic] revolution in Iran, and was completely Americanized, so he accepted me as I was, and never had an issue with my being gay," Parhizkar told this reporter. "When my brother died, sadly, in 2003, he left the entire business to me. I also own the property on which it is located."
Hassan Parhizkar’s legal troubles began in 1992, when he began an effort to win asylum here. Tragically, he fell into the hands of an unscrupulous con man who preyed on immigrants by pretending to be an attorney, when in fact he wasn’t. The fraud artist sabotaged Parhizkar’s asylum request while taking his money.
"In March 1992, Hassan hired what he believed to be an immigration attorney by the name of Mehdi Hashemi to represent him in his asylum case," Parhizkar’s current attorney, Parastoo G. Zahedi of Vienna, Virginia, told me. Zahedi, an immigration lawyer since 1989, chairs the Washington, DC chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
According to Zahedi, the con man, Hashemi, who also uses the name Mike Milani, worked out of an area law firm.
"However," said Zahedi, "it has since become widely known in the Iranian community and among licensed attorneys that Mr. Hashemi is not in fact a licensed attorney and has misrepresented himself as such for years to the immigrant community."
Zahedi said that, "Unfortunately, Mr. Parhizkar never received any notices from Mr. Hashemi with regard to any hearings at the asylum office which had scheduled an interview in 1996. Hassan was simply kept in the dark, despite his having advised his so-called attorney of his change of address.
"He never received any correspondence on his case and was without knowledge
of any hearing dates in immigration court," Zahedi said.
In late 1999, an immigration judge ordered Parhizkar removed from the U.S. in absentia.
Parhizkar only learned of the deportation order during a routine police traffic stop in Fairfax, Virginia in February 2001, when his name was run through the computers and the order for his removal discovered.
He was jailed by the old Immigration and Naturalization Service for seven months and 10 days.
Parhizkar was released on September 25, 2001 after the Iranian government refused to issue travel documents to him. It was at that point that he was placed on supervised probation, one condition of which was that he report in person once a month to the Baltimore District Office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the new combined INS-Customs Service entity the Bush administration created post-9/11. On its website, ICE bills itself as "the largest investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)." (Left, an ICE arrest)
Parhizkar’s new lawyer, Zahedi, insisted, "Hassan has always complied fully with every condition imposed on the Release Order — and in fact it was during one of Hassan’s routine reporting visits into the ICE Baltimore office at which, just weeks ago on November 7, he was arrested and ordered jailed in the Frederick County Detention Center."
Zahedi has only represented Parhizkar for the past few weeks and is preparing briefs to demand that the deportation be stopped.
A key argument will be that Parhizkar was the "victim of ineffective assistance of counsel" at the hands of Hashemi.
"Many immigration practitioners in the Washington metropolitan area also know of Mr. Hashemi’s reputation for misrepresenting himself as a licensed attorney and ruining the lives of many past clients," explained Zahedi, who said Hashemi has now left the Washington area.
But Zahedi emphasized that beyond the normal asylum petition route, Parhizkar has an equally strong case for having his deportation voided under the international Convention on Torture, of which the U.S. is a signatory.
And it is here that Parhizkar’s previous history of persecution in Iran becomes relevant.
"Life as a gay person in Iran is a nightmare," Parhizkar said in an affidavit to the immigration authorities.
"My first homosexual experience occurred when I was 14 years old. A member of the Revolutionary Guard started a relationship with me that became sexual. This man’s name is Jaber Mortezaee. I was lost, young, and very naïve when the relationship started. I was confused and scared to talk to anybody about this development. But this man had power over me, and I stayed in this relationship for many years. (Right, a rally of the Revolutionary Guards.)
"In August 1990, several years after the start of my relationship with Jaber Mortezaee, government agents from the morality police arrested me… While I was in detention, the government agents questioned me about my relationship with Jaber Mortezaee. They beat me constantly and threatened to keep me in prison for the rest of my life or kill me. Every part of my body was in pain, and I passed out from several of the beatings."
After three days of this brutal torture, Parhizkar was released, but the police asked Sepah Pasdaran, the Iranian government's security and investigation agency, to continue an investigation.
"I believe the morality police wanted to accuse Jaber Mortezaee of immorality and anti-government activities, but only the Sepah Pasdaran are authorized to question a Revolutionary Guard," Parhizkar said.
"After my release," he continued, "I could not explain my disappearance or my beaten body to my family or friends. But I told Jaber Mortezaee about the interrogation, and he advised me to escape Iran, which I did with his help and that of my father."
"I last had contact with Jaber in 1993 in a telephone call from Dubai, where he had moved shortly after he left Iran."
For the last ten years, Parhizkar has been in a stable relationship with an Iranian American who is a U.S. citizen and works for a Maryland state agency.
"He is married," he told this reporter, "but his wife doesn’t know about our relationship, although she is very nice to me.
"We are not out either as gay or as a couple except to a very few close friends. The attitude of the Iranian exile community here in the US toward gay people is very hard, they are very much against it. If they find out you are, you are not welcome in the community."
But, Parhizkar said, "our relationship is a very good one. I’m not the kind to go out on the town and go crazy. We spend quiet time together, or go on trips to Florida where we have gay Iranian friends. It’s very nice, we are very close and can talk about everything. It’s the best relationship I’ve had in my life."
Arsham Parsi, the gay Iranian exile who is the executive director of the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO), now headquartered in Toronto, told me that the group has launched an online petition campaign to try to stop Parhizkar’s deportation back to Iran.
The petition says in part: "IRQO is deeply concerned that Hassan Parhizkar would be subject to torture and would face the death penalty upon his deportation to Iran on account of his homosexuality. The US Government's action in deporting Mr. Parhizkar to Iran is clearly prohibited by the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment (known as CAT) ratified by the United States in 1992, and by congressionally enacted policy giving effect to CAT. As the United
States Congress made clear, it is the policy of the United States not to:
Expel, extradite, or otherwise effect the involuntary return of any person
to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing the person
would be in danger of being subjected to torture…"
Emphasizing the continuing danger to Iranian LGBT people from the Ahmadinejad government, Parsi told me this week that within the last few days he had received multiple emails from some of the 87 people who were arrested at what authorities charged was a "gay party" in the city of Esfahan on May 10.
Police and the thuggish Basiji, a parapolice under control of the Revolutionary Guards, had severely beaten those arrested, sending a number of them to hospital. (For a complete account, see this reporter’s May 24 article, "ln Brutal Raid, Iran Arrests 87, Jails 17"
Those who had originally been released without bail, Parsi (left) told me in a telephone interview from Toronto, started being re-arrested last week and subjected to muscular interrogations designed to extract from them the names of other homosexuals they know.
"They showed several of those re-arrested huge albums of photographs of people, and were asked to name their names and their relationships and their activities," Parsi said. "Those arrested who were shown these albums recognized most of the faces as gay people.The amount of information the police and the Basiji have assembled on gay people is simply staggering, judging by these dossiers."
Some of those re-arrested have been given sentences of 80 lashes in the last ten days, although ostensibly for drinking alcohol.
"They were told by the judge in court that they were arrested and condemned for being queer, but the authorities don’t want to say that in public, so they use the alcohol charge," Parsi said.
If you wish to protest Hassan Parhizkar 's threatened deportation from the U.S., sign the online IRQO petition on his behalf at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/irqo-hassan/ . Organizations wishing to join the campaign to stop Parhizkar’s deportation should contact his lawyer, Parastoo G. Zahedi, by e-mail at PGZLAW@aol.com, by phone at 703-448-0111, or by fax at 703-448-5552.
November 21, 2007
A BUSH DOUBLE-CROSS ON HIV TRAVEL BAN...and how to protest it
I wrote the following article for Gay City News--New York's largest lesbian and gay weekly newspaper -- which published it today.
The Bush administration is trying to pull a fast one -- rushing through draconian proposed new regulations that will restrict even further the entry of HIV-positive people into to the US, just one year after having promised to ease them.
On November 6, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued stringent proposed new regulations for HIV-positive travelers coming here which are "pretty regressive" and "extremely troubling," according to Nancy Ordover, assistant director for federal affairs and research at the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC). (At right, the perpetrators of the deed: Bush with DHS czar Michael Chertoff.)
But the 30-day deadline for public comment imposed by DHS means a cut-off date of December 6 for reactions to the new regs, leaving little time for the AIDS advocacy community to mobilize.
That, Ordover told me, is a departure from standard practice for proposed new federal regulations; the time frame for public reaction is "usually much longer," she said.
The US is one of only 13 countries that completely ban incoming travel across their borders by the HIV-positive. The others, according to a list established by the leading German AIDS service organization, Deutsche AIDS Hillfe, for the most part have undemocratic regimes. They are Iraq, China, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan, Qatar, Brunei, Oman, Moldova, Russia, Armenia, and South Korea.
A waiver to the ban is required for HIV-positive travelers to or through the US. Even when a traveler's US stay merely involves changing planes, a waiver is needed.
Last year on World AIDS Day, President George W. Bush pledged to issue "streamlined" new regulations with a "categorical waiver" that would make it easier for the HIV-positive to receive exemptions.
"Unfortunately, despite using the terms 'streamlined' and 'categorical,' in reality these regulations are neither," said Victoria Neilson, legal director of Immigration Equality, which works on behalf of LGBT and HIV-positive asylum seekers and immigrants.
Neilson told Gay City News, "This is a big disappointment, given the rhetoric of the Bush administration that the US was making it easier -- because the new regs simply add more heavy burdens for the HIV-positive traveler."
Among other provisions, under the new rules proposed by DHS, a visitor would need to travel with all the medication he would need during his stay in the US; prove that he has medical insurance that is accepted in the US and would cover any medical contingency; and prove that he won't engage in behavior that might put the American public at risk. The maximum term for any waiver would be 30 days.
The new regulations purport to speed up the waiver application process because consular officers would be empowered to make decisions without seeking DHS sign-off. However, by using this "streamlined" application process, waiver applicants would have to agree to give up the ability to apply for any change in status while in the US, including applying for legal permanent residence.
The purpose of fast-tracking the new regs and setting a super-tight December 6 deadline for public comment before they take effect was to catch the AIDS community -- busy with preparations for World AIDS Day on December 1 -- unawares. To a certain extent, the ploy has worked.
When I telephoned the usually well-informed Kate Krauss -- who has worked for several AIDS advocacy organizations and now coordinates the Health Action AIDS Campaign for Physicians for Human Rights -- to find out what she thought of the proposed new regs, she hadn't yet heard of them.
"Wow, they just flew right by me -- they haven't been on my radar screen at all," she said.
After having been provided by Gay City News with a copy of the proposal, Krauss was appalled.
"Under the proposed regulations, the US travel ban remains a cruel violation of human rights for people with AIDS," Krauss said, adding, "People with HIV would be made to jump through even more hoops than before, and the rules would make it particularly difficult for people from very poor nations to visit the US, with requirements for wealth, medical care, medications, and documentation that the applicant is HIV-positive."
Moreover, Krauss said, "People could be penalized if they became sick while visiting the United States and, if found to be out of compliance with these regulations, barred from ever visiting the US again. If President Bush cares about the human rights of people with AIDS, he should just ask Congress to abolish the travel ban. Anything else is just rewriting an unjust policy."
GMHC's Ordover pointed out, "As written, the rule could leave individuals with HIV who obtain asylum in the US in a permanent limbo; forever barred from obtaining legal permanent residence, and therefore cut off from services, benefits, and employment opportunities."
Ordover added, "It seems very disingenuous that the government is claiming to make things easier for people with HIV, but it's really compelling them to forfeit their rights."
As a result of the hasty release of the proposed regs and the arbitrarily truncated time frame for public comment, only a few AIDS advocacy organizations have so far taken a critical posture, and this only began to happen at the end of last week.
GMHC was the first organization to release a lengthy analysis of the new regs, which it did last Friday, and began preparing a sign-on statement protesting them which it will ask other AIDS advocacy groups and immigrant rights organizations to join.
But things were fairly sluggish at AIDS Action Council, the largest Washington, DC AIDS lobby, which bills itself as "the national voice on AIDS" and represents more than 3,000 local service organizations. When Gay City News this Monday asked Ronald Johnson, AIDS Action's deputy executive director, for his organization's position on the new regs, he would only say, "we are in the process of developing our comments" and "we are still
looking at the fine print."
Johnson added, "We'll probably follow GMHC's analysis."
When this reporter suggested to Johnson that AIDS Action organize a national conference call with executive directors of AIDS advocacy organizations to mobilize them quickly against the harsh new regs, he said they'd "think about it."
Fortunately, GMHC is already in the process of organizing such a conference
call for next week, Ordover told Gay City News.
However, said Ordover, "these regulations are in general a distraction -- what we really need to move forward on is getting the HIV-positive travel bar overturned completely."
In addition to her other duties at GHMC, Ordover is co-coordinator of Lift the Bar, a coalition of HIV, immigrant, human rights, and LGBT service and advocacy organizations working to overturn the HIV ban.
At a Congressional hearing last November, Ordover detailed the negative consequences of the travel ban.
"The HIV bar rarely makes the news, and when we do hear about it, it's usually because someone trying to attend some major event or forum being held in the US can't get into the country," Ordover said. "This is not unimportant -- the International AIDS Conference hasn't been held on US soil for 16 years and the HIV bar is the reason. Despite our efforts in the global fight against HIV and AIDS, our standing in the international
community has been grievously compromised by this policy."
Ordover, who noted that one-third of GMHC's clients are immigrants, also pointed out, "Many people first learn they are HIV-positive after they get to the US. Many contract HIV here. Some find out their status when they get the results of their Immigration Service medical examination."
Under the current DHS regs in force, she said, "Visitors either are actively deterred from seeking HIV testing and treatment, or avoid contact with providers out of fear of putting their immigration status in permanent limbo or worse. If they are low-income or poor, they either don't have recourse to the full slate of public programs and services they need to stay healthy or may be unaware of what services they are entitled to. At GMHC we view this policy as a violation of human rights and a threat to public health inside
and outside the US." The proposed new regs do nothing to change this.
And, Ordover added, "The truth is, the bar undermines public health and drives up the cost of health care. It forces HIV-positive immigrants to go underground, discourages immigrants who don't know their status from getting tested, from seeking preventive care, from seeking any care until they end up in the emergency room with full blown AIDS -- all things that undermine individual health, public health and that ultimately put more strain on the public coffers."
Individuals who wish to protest the harsh new DHS regs on HIV-positive travel may submit comments online at http://www.regulations.gov - but to do so you must include the docket number of the proposed regs, USCBP-2007-0084. Organizations wishing to join in signing on to the statement GMHC is preparing in protest of the new regs should contact Nancy Ordover at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 212-367-1240.
FROM PETER CAMERON'S PEN, A CLASSIC IS BORN
I wrote the following article for Gay City News, New York's larget gay and lesbian weekly:
Peter Cameron (left) is without question one of the finest contemporary American gay writers - yet his name is hardly a gay household world. If there is justice in this world, that will change with his enthralling new novel, "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You," just published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
It is the story, told in the first person, of James Sveck, a precociously cynical gay kid from Manhattan who has just turned 18. The novel -- which got rave reviews in The New York Times and The New York Review of Books -- has been compared by critics to the J.D. Salinger classic, "Catcher in the Rye" --indeed, Cameron's James is the most unforgettable adolescent in American fiction since Holden Caulfield.
The 47-year-old novelist has a superb ear for dialogue, and James' voice, as he recounts his groping attempts to come to terms with a world around him he doesn't like very much, is unique and irresistible - witty and wise, even in his confusion. As James comes of age in the low, dishonest decade that has been the beginning of the 21st century, he skewers with bravado our cultural foibles and our emotional avoidances as he searches for love and meaning.
Cameron - who was born in Pompton Plains, New Jersey, and grew up there and in London - has lived on West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village for the past 25 years. "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You" is his eighth book. It was preceded by two collections of short stories, many of which first appeared in The New Yorker - "One Way or Another" (1986) and "Far-flung" (1991). His first novel, "Leap Year," first appeared in 1988 as a serial in the just-launched magazine 7 Days, edited by Adam Moss.
From there, Cameron produced a string of extraordinary novels that had critics placing him in the company of Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Jorge Luis Borges, and Vladimir Nabokov - "The Weekend" (1994), which was made into a movie in 2000 starring Gena Rowlands and Brooke Shields; "Andorra" (1997); and "The City of Your Final Destination" (2002), currently being completed by James Ivory from a screenplay by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and starring Anthony Hopkins (left), Charlotte Gainsbourg (right), and Laura Linney.
Now, with "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You," Cameron has created an insightful, captivating, and frequently surprising novel whose youthful gay hero employs sparkling intelligence to grapple with life and love.
Peter Cameron talked to Gay City News this week about his novel, his work, and his life.
DOUG IRELAND: Critics have variously described "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You" (cover left) as a coming-of-age novel, a novel about alienation, and one even saw it as a very subtle 9/11 novel - even though James doesn't mention he saw the Twin Towers collapse until three-quarters of the way through the book. How would you describe it?
PETER CAMERON: I think there's something inherently reductive about the way books are talked about by critics, who want to make the strongest case possible for their response to the book. I hope "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You" is all the things you mention and more, depending on the reader. It's very difficult for me to describe or categorize my books, partly because I don't think about them in that way and partly because I feel that reading is a collaborative process between a writer and a reader, and so only a reader can describe a book.
DI: How did you come up with the book's marvelously apt - and optimistic - title?
PC: This book had several titles. Originally it was called "But I Won't," which came from a passage in the book where James is forced to attend a sailing camp the summer he is 12, and the motto of the camp, which is emblazoned on the campers' T-shirts, is "I Can Do It." James takes an indelible marker and appends "But I Won't" beneath the motto, but because of Judy Blume's well-known young adult novel "But Then Again Maybe I Won't," the publisher wanted me to change the title. After experimenting with several titles suggested by other parts of the book, I decided the best solution would be to change the motto of the sailing camp, and somehow I found out that the motto of the Swedish Navy is Ovid's "Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you," and that seemed perfect for a book about adolescence.
DI: You grew up in London - how did that come about, and what was it like for a gay kid?
PC: I actually only lived in London for two years as a kid, but they were very formative and wonderful years. My father was a banker and transferred there. This was in the late '60s when London was a very hip, exciting place and a very safe city so I had a lot of freedom and independence. I think one of the reasons I was so happy there was because for a gay kid a city is a much more accepting and heterogeneous environment - you realize there are lots of different kinds of people in the world, which isn't very evident in American suburbia, where I spent the remainder of my youth.
DI: Following Flaubert's famous dictum "Madame Bovary, c'est moi!", how much of you is there in James?
PC: In the same way that Flaubert is Emma Bovary, I suppose that I am James - he is an imagined projection of myself, a psychological manifestation, but in simple biographic terms he is an invented character, and not myself.
DI: James at one point describes himself as "an atheist and an anarchist." Are you?
PC: I'm the former but not the latter. Although it's difficult these days, I think you have to believe in government, because I think some form of government is necessary and can be civilizing, in every sense of that word. The reality is that the effect that government, like religion, has on the majority of people is crippling, especially when the two intersect.
DI: How did you come to the realization you were gay, and when, and what happened when you told your entourage? What was more difficult for you - the process of coming out as gay, or of coming out as a writer?
PC: I think homosexuality is as deeply and thoroughly imbedded in a person's psyche as heterosexuality, so it was not something I realized I was, it was something I was. The problem was not knowing it but accepting it, because the world I grew up in did its very best to discourage one from embracing an alternative sexuality. It also discouraged artists, but not so overtly or vehemently, so that was an easier identity to assume.
While I appreciate the political ramifications of sexual identity, the notion of coming out has always seemed oddly oppressive to me - the idea that one's sexuality should be announced or explained rather than evidenced. I've simply let my life sexual life speak for itself both privately and publicly. I'm aware that the hard brave work of gay activists who came before me made this attitude possible, and I'm indebted to them.
DI: Your literary career may be said to have debuted when you published a short story in The New Yorker when you were only 23 - and they went on to publish a goodly number of your other short fictions. That magazine was considered a tough nut to crack - more so then than now - so how did you manage to do so at such a young age?
PC: I was very fortunate at the beginning of my career in several ways. One was that I was writing short stories during a time when there was a renascence of interest in that form, and many major magazines still published stories, and many publishers were publishing collections of stories. In fact, until Tina Brown began editing The New Yorker in 1992, that magazine published two stories in every issue, and there were several fiction editors working at the magazine, who read the work of, and corresponded with, many writers.
I begin submitting stories while I was in college. My editor, Linda Asher, responded to them, always rejecting, but always encouraging. Her letters very effectively let me know why the stories were not succeeding; it was a wonderful education. I sold them the first story shortly after I graduated from college, and was very happy to publish so many other stories there over the next eight years.
DI: You've said that you revere the gay British writer Denton Welch (left), who died in 1948 at the age of 33. And in "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You," James says several times he's a Welch fan - indeed, I found certain Welchian tonalities in the novel, which has this marvelous quote from him on its frontispiece: "When you long with all your heart for someone to love you," wrote Welch, "a madness grows there that shakes all sense from the trees and the water and the earth. And nothing lives for you, except the long deep bitter want. And this is what everyone feels from birth to death." Yet not many Americans have heard of Welch. Tell us why is he so important to you, and what of his would you recommend to read to someone who isn't familiar with his work?
PC: I think Denton Welch is an absolutely brilliant writer in so many ways. Because he was gay, and died at such a tragically young age, and suffered so miserably during his final years, his life and work resonate so forcefully to me, especially in the late 20th century, when so many gay men where suffering and dying so young. There seemed to be something eerily prescient about his work.
He's an incredibly brave and honest and sensual writer; the physical world is uniquely vivid in his work, and he understands and can articulate the vicissitudes of depression and aloneness better than any writer I know.
Welch was born in Shanghai in 1915; his distant father was British and his beloved mother was an American Quaker. She died when he was a young boy, and he spent the rest of his miserable youth in boarding schools, which he often ran away from. He was finally allowed to attend art school in London and studied painting, but was struck by a car while riding a bicycle and was severely injured and remained an invalid for the rest of his short life.
Because the physical strain of painting exhausted him, he turned to writing and published two highly autobiographical novels - "Maiden Voyage" and "In Youth is Pleasure." His final novel, and masterpiece, "A Voice Through a Cloud," was published posthumously, as were his journals and stories.
Welch wrote with startling frankness about homosexual desire; in fact he wrote with startling frankness - and heart-breaking sensitivity - about just about everything. The brilliance of his fiction is evidenced by the fact he was championed by writers as diverse as Edith Sitwell, who wrote the foreword to his first novel, and William Burroughs (left), who wrote an introduction to an edition of "In Youth is Pleasure" that was published in the 1980s.
DI: You count as other major influences four British female writers - Rose Macaulay (right), Barbara Pym, Penelope Mortimer, and Elizabeth Taylor. Why? And what are your favorite books of theirs?
PC: I think I enjoy and revere these writers because they all combine two qualities I admire very much as a writer and enjoy as a reader - the ability to examine domestic - personal - life with a keen sensitivity and intelligence and to so gracefully and elegantly use the English language to record their observations.
I think my favorite books of theirs are the books that are most widely-regarded as being their best - "The Towers of Trebizond" by Rose Macaulay, "Quartet in Autumn" by Barbara Pym, "The Pumpkin Eater" by Penelope Mortimer, and "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont" by Elizabeth Taylor.
DI: I was shocked to discover that Farrar, Straus is marketing "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You" as "young adult" fiction - even though the New York Review of Books, in its rave review, quite rightly said that "Someday..." is "a sophisticated and adult book" and definitely not young adult literature. In fact, I'd say it takes a bit of maturity and worldliness to appreciate all the novel's many qualities and wisdom. Why did the publisher do such a silly thing, and how do you feel about it?
PC: As you may have intuited by my first answer, I didn't consider what kind of book I was writing while I was working on this book. I assumed I was writing a book about a young person for adults. I assumed that adults are interested in books about young people. I realized that this book was very different from my previous books, but I liked that - I find it necessary to, and pride myself on the fact of, writing books that are unlike one another. But the first few editors who read the finished manuscript were all disappointed by it - I think because they were expecting a book that bore more resemblance to my previous ones.
There is a real pressure in publishing to do the same thing over and over again, only bigger. And this book was something different, and smaller. Farrar Straus Giroux, my publisher, finally agreed to publish it as a young adult novel and cross-market it as an adult book, an arrangement I have to come to find is just about impossible. Barnes & Noble and other major bookstore chains will only shelve a book in one place.
Because I know from experience the remarkable lasting impression books can have on young readers, I'm pleased that the book is a YA, the downside of that is that adult readers are much less likely to read it, and that's terrifically frustrating, since that was the audience I thought I was writing for.
DI: You spent a decade working at Lambda Legal - and your boyfriend, the restaurateur Florent Morellet (right), a beloved figure in the LGBT community, was honored for his gay and AIDS activism by being made grand marshal of last year's New York Pride parade. Do you consider yourself in any sense a gay activist?
PC: No, I don't. I admire too much the people I know who are - or were - activists to consider myself one. I felt very fortunate and honored to have worked for Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, but my work there was purely administrative. I also admire writers who successfully combined their politics with their art, but I've come to realize, and accept, that I'm not an overtly political writer.
DI: Florent tells me that you met each other through the Internet. What was your Internet courtship like?
PC: No comment...
DI: I find that the gay press doesn't ask our best writers to reflect on political issues of the day often enough. So, what political issues get your juices flowing?
PC: The usual things, I'm sure - the generally idiocy of the Bush presidency, the war in Iraq, the continuing legalized discrimination against the LBGT community, the failure to support the arts, and the government-sanctioned desecration of the environment.
DI: I know you were out of the country during part of the LGBT community's intense debate about the exclusion of protection of the transgendered and gender identity from ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and about the role of the Human Rights Campaign in that evisceration of ENDA. How do you feel about all that?
PC: I believe that inclusivity is an important and strengthening part of any civil-rights movement. I also find the way that politics actually works very depressing, and because I'm not a politician I don't pretend to understand the best way to get something like ENDA passed.
DI: Do you have any particular enthusiasm for one of the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates? Or any particular dislike?
PC: My enthusiasm would gladly be pledged to any viable Democratic presidential candidate. I've particularly admired Dennis Kucinich (right) ever since he advocated for a Department of Peace and Non-Violence.
DI: What gay organizations do you support or especially approve of, and why? Also, does the institutional LGBT community do enough to reach out to young people or try to respond to their needs? Younger gay kids say no - and put it down to adult fears of being tarred with the pedophilia brush in the current climate of anti-pedophile hysteria. Your view?
PC: I'm aware of two organizations that do very good work for gay youth - Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, where David Buckel (right) is doing excellent and important work on behalf of young people, and the Hetrick-Martin Institute.
DI: You recently returned from a trip to Italy to promote your book there. How were it, and you, received by the Italians?
PC: For some reasons I don't understand, my books are very popular in Italy at the moment. My last two books - "The City of Your Final Destination" and "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You" - have both been on the bestseller lists there. It is, of course, extremely gratifying when so many people respond to and value one's work. It's a new experience for me. (left, the Italian edition of "Someday...", "Un giorno questo dolore ti sarà utile")
DI: What are you currently reading - both books and magazines?
PC: I'm currently reading Andrew O'Hagan's novel "Be Near Me." (cover right). I don't really like reading magazines; I'd much rather read a book. The only magazines I regularly read are The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.
DI: Do you have any favorites among contemporary gay writers?
PC: I admire the work of David Plante, James Lord, Stephen McCauley, Vestal McIntyre, Carole Maso, John Ashbery, Colm Toibin, Edmund White, Stacey D'Erasmo, to name just a few.
DI: Do you listen to music while you write? Who are your favorite composers?
PC: I can't listen to music and write; it just doesn't work for me. I pay attention to the music and that's distracting. Some of my favorite composers are Gustav Mahler (right), Stephen Sondheim, Joni Mitchell, Noel Coward (left), and Benjamin Britten.
DI: For most of your literary career, you've also held down a day job in the non-profit sector - yet you've simultaneously produced an impressively large body of literary work. How do you manage doing both? Are you simply a fast writer? One wouldn't say so from the intensely thoughtful nature of the observations in your fictions. And where are you currently working these days?
PC: I'm not a fast writer; on the contrary, I'm rather slow - there's about a five-year gap between all my books. It takes me a very long time to write a novel, and not because I'm working a day job. It's just because I have to live with a novel for several years to completely understand it. I have a short attention span when it comes to writing - and most things - and can't write for more than a few hours a day. So having a day job is necessary for both economic and psychological reasons.
For the past two years, I've been working for The Trust for Public Land, a land-conservation organization. I worked there for about five years in the 1980s. Like Lambda Legal Defense, it's an organization that I think strives to change the world in very good and important ways, so working there is a pleasure.
DI: If you have any free time left over after your day job and your writing, what do you do for pleasure?
PC: I see a lot of theater, which I love, and ballet. I don't like to go to movies but I like watching them at home. I like to spend time with friends, and I like to spend time at home, alone.
DI: The problem of concentration in media ownership is posing a threat to both serious fiction and to gay books - the latest sorry chapter in this saga is the decision by a multinational owner to shut down Caroll & Graf, eliminate the fine collection of gay books which Don Weise edited there, and fold the imprint into Perseus Books. Don't money-grubbing decisions like this mean shrinking the pool of potential readers for quality literature and for gay fiction? At the same time, the rise in postal rates for magazines is inevitably causing some of the quality journals that pay attention to literature to cut back or fold because it will be so costly. Will the publishing of quality books survive assaults like these? And will the kids who grew up on the Internet - like the ones you've taught at Yale and Sarah Lawrence - revere books in the way older, pre-Internet farts like me do? If publishing quality fiction is getting harder and harder, and its audience is shrinking, what is the future of literature?
PC: This is a very depressing topic. The shutting down of Caroll & Graf was particularly upsetting, because Don Weise (right) was publishing so many terrific writers. I think the Internet has - or is having - a profound effect on how and what people read, and it will take a few more years to see to see if there is still a large enough readership to make publishing books economically feasible. I attempt to remain optimistic about all of this, but that is difficult, because I love books in the traditional sense, and it would make me very sad if they ceased to be the objects they are now.
DI: Two more of your novels may soon have a life on the big screen - Merchant Ivory is completing work on your "The City of Your Final Destination," while Ovie, with a less artistic track record, has optioned "Andorra." Will you maintain a polite distance from these film projects to protect yourself so that you have credible deniability in the event that they're botched, and you can thus disown them? - as my friend John Berendt (left) luckily did when Clint Eastwood made a heavy-handed mess of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," in which John's journalist character was turned into a hetero and given a girlfriend. Or are you going to fully implicate yourself in helping to shape these films in ways that won't betray the integrity of the books - a difficult tightrope to walk? How are you dealing with this problematic?
PC: I think the smartest and safest thing a writer can do when it comes to adapting books for movies is to completely disassociate himself from the movie, because novels and movies are such different mediums, and becoming involved is often only a recipe for heartache and disaster. So it's best to take the money and run, I think.
But of course I haven't taken my own advice: I've written the screenplays for "Andorra" and "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You," and although Ruth Prawer Jhabvala wrote the screenplay for "City of Your Final Destination," I've been involved with every aspect of the film - casting, filming, and editing. James Ivory is one of the few filmmakers who actually likes and respects novelists, and he's been extremely gracious in involving me with the film. (Photo right: Cameron on the left, James Ivory in the middle, and Florent Morellet)
DI: Edmund White (left) told me that his recent, witty autobiography, "My Lives," was roundly criticized by most of his friends for having too much sex in it. I, on the other hand, thought his self-critical, graphic transparency about his late-in-life adventures in masochism at the hands of a rented hustler a very brave thing to publish. Could you ever see yourself at some point writing such a tell-all account of your sexual exploits? If not, why not?
PC: I also admire Ed's work, and think he is a very brave and brilliant writer. But we're very different as writers - Ed has always written about himself; most of his novels are somewhat autobiographical - whereas I have never been inclined to write directly about myself. The pleasure of writing, for me, is to get away from myself, both biographically and geographically. Of course I allow things that happen to me to inform my characters' lives, but I've never felt that my life itself would make for good fiction - or nonfiction, for that matter.
DI: What is your next book project? What are you working on?
PC: I'm working on a new novel that I'm still in the process of figuring out. I wish I could tell you the title, but it doesn't have one yet.
DI: Last question. I found "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You" so absorbing, and James so endearing, that I didn't want the book to end. Have you at all considered doing a sequel that takes James into the next stage of his life - or are you going to leave us all hanging with our tongues out panting frustratedly for more time we could spend with him?
PC: That's nice to hear, and I've heard the same from other readers. I don't plan to write a sequel to "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You," but I haven't planned to write any of my books - they always arise mysteriously from my subconscious, and so it's impossible for me to anticipate or predict future books. I'm never even sure that I'll write another book.
For more information on Peter Cameron, his work, and his literary likes, visit his extensive and entertaining website by clicking here.
November 15, 2007
MASSIMO CONSOLI, AN ITALIAN GIANT, DIES
Called "Papa Max" by his closest gay friends - in Italian, "Papa" means both "Daddy" and "Pope" - Consoli (LEFT, at a Rome Gay Pride march) was a prolific writer, theorist, and self-trained historian with 40 books to his credit, mostly on homosexual subjects, as well as an indefatigable archivist of materials on homosexuality. He was also a tireless and talented lifelong organizer who pioneered the first modern Italian gay organizations.
The leading Italian daily, La Repubblica, in its front-page obituary on Consoli, noted that his many friends included the Italian cultural giant Pier Paolo Pasolini (LEFT), who was a poet, novelist, literary critic, playwright, and filmmaker who celebrated homosexuality in his work; the novelist Alberto Moravia; the gay neo-Symbolist poet Dario Bellazza (RIGHT), whose poems are suffused with homosexuality, and who was considered by many Pasolini's cultural heir; and the openly gay French anthropologist Alain Daniélou, a noted expert on India.
He originally studied to be an accountant, but after a long crisis over his homosexuality Consoli abandoned his university studies to consecrate his life to those he considered his gay "brothers and sisters." He thought it unjust, he later wrote, "that anyone should have to suffer uselessly just because he loved someone of his own sex."
In 1963 - six years before the Stonewall rebellion in New York City - Consoli, a lifelong anarchist, formed a discussion group, La Rivoluzione Ã¨ Verde (The Revolution is Green), around the themes of sexual discrimination and social injustice. In 1966 he launched another gay group, the Associazione Culturale Roma-1. The name "Roma-1" did not refer to Italy's capital city, but was a secret acronym for Rivolta Omosessuale dei Maschi Anarchici - Prima fase (Homosexual Revolt of Male Anarchists - First phase).
"Now if you're gay, you just look up an organization in the phone book," Consoli told journalist Elisabetta Povoledo last year, noting that when he was growing up he was forced to send furtive letters to gay magazines abroad, looking to make contacts.
"There was a sense of sin to it all then," he added, "and any meeting was potentially dangerous. It was difficult - you have to understand how it was, we lived in terror. Everything was banned; it was all clandestine, people can't believe that today."
Consoli's precocious gay activism quickly led him into confrontations with the Italian state and the Catholic Church, and as early as October 1967 the Italian counter-espionage service, SID (Servizio Informazioni Difesa), began a file on him. His neighbors were interrogated about his visitors and his habits. This investigation caused him to give up his teaching position in a Roman school and to move to the Netherlands in 1969.
As related by Consoli's friend Dr. Hubert Kennedy (LEFT), a research associate at the Center for Research and Education in Sexuality at San Francisco State University, "Consoli's reason for relocating was threefold: (1) he wished to publish an ideological document that would stimulate the birth of a homosexual movement; (2) he knew this was not possible in Italy (since he was already under police surveillance, he could expect a violent reaction to any such publication); and (3) the Netherlands seemed at that time to be the most open to homosexual political action."
Thus, Kennedy wrote, in the glbtq.com online encyclopedia, "The resulting document, published in 1971, became known as Manifesto Gay; its original title was "Manifesto per la Rivoluzione Morale: l'Omosessualità Rivoluzionaria" ("Manifesto for the Moral Revolution: Revolutionary Homosexuality"). It was a programmatic document meant to furnish the basis for an Italian gay liberation movement, such as had already been established in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States. The work succeeded in stimulating the formation of gay organizations in Italy."
The most important of those organizations was the Fronte Unitario Omosessuale Rivoluzionario Italiano (Italian Revolutionary Homosexual United Front), better known by its acronym, FUORI! - meaning "Come out!" in Italian, and which explicitly stated that it was inspired by Consoli's Manifesto. One of the key organizers of FUORI!, which in 1971 emerged almost simultaneously in Rome, Turin, and Milan, was Mario Mieli (LEFT), a radical student leader of the 1968 generation and another pioneering Italian gay theorist who had already participated in London's Gay Liberation Front.
Mieli (LEFT), went on to write an influential Marxist account of homosexuality and homosexual oppression, "Elementi di critica omissible" (1977), translated into English in 1980 as "Homosexuality and Liberation: Elements of a Gay Critique." After Mieli's early death in 1983 at the age of 33, the largest gay organization in Rome changed its name to Circolo di Cultura Omosessuale Mario Mieli ( the Mario Mieli Homosexual Cultural Circle), which is today still an important gay institution and cultural center.
Mieli was also Consoli's good friend.
Consoli participated in - and often organized - many of the most significant gay events in Italy. For example, he took part in the Gay May Day in Rome in 1972. He organized the first annual Italian commemoration of New York City's Stonewall riots on June 28, 1976, at a time when most of the participants had no idea what "Stonewall" meant. Throughout the 1970s he organized hundreds of conferences, exhibitions, book presentations, theatrical spectacles, and political demonstrations. In 1976 he defied a police ban to organize a public demonstration on the first anniversary of the assassination of his friend Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Consoli was in New York in 1981, where he became a good friend of pioneer gay and AIDS activist Vito Russo (RIGHT), when the first cases of what would become known as AIDS were announced. Immediately recognizing the danger of the epidemic, Consoli wrote an article for publication in Italy calling the disease "the plague of the 20th century." He subsequently gave up a lucrative position in New York to return to Italy and launch education campaigns for safer sex.
Consoli was the first person to request a meeting with the Roman police regarding crimes against gays. (The police commissioner later said that it was due to his work that these crimes were drastically reduced.) He also met with the mayor of Rome to request - and obtain - the appointment of a liaison officer to the gay and lesbian community.
In 1989, Consoli founded the magazine Gay News Rome.
In 1992, he organized a demonstration at the Vatican to protest the anti-gay letter written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (LEFT), now Pope Benedict XVI, to the U. S. bishops entitled "Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons," which described homosexuality as a "tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil" and recommended banning gays as teachers and coaches, as well as other discriminatory measures.
As a gay historian, Consoli was particularly devoted to the memory of the pioneering German theorist and fighter for homosexual emancipation Karl Ulrichs (1825-1895). In 1867, Ulrichs became the first self-proclaimed homosexual to speak out publicly in defense of homosexuality when he pleaded at the Congress of German Jurists in Munich for a resolution urging the repeal of anti-homosexual laws.
Ulrichs (RIGHT) published a dozen books proclaiming that homosexuality - which, invoking Plato's "Symposium," he baptized "Uranian love" (from the Greek urianos, or "heavenly love") - was normal and natural, and arguing that Uranians should have full social and legal equality with heterosexuals, including the right to marry.
Ulrichs' books - two of which Consoli translated into Italian - had worldwide influence. For example, Oscar Wilde (LEFT) and his friends embraced both Ulrichs' philosophy and his Uranian language when they founded a secret Uranian organization, the Order of Chaeronea, to fight for legalization of homosexuality. And in his eye-opening 2005 revisionist biography , "The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde," which details Wilde's hitherto ignored gay activism, the British historian Neil McKenna demonstrates that "the very title of 'The Importance of Being Earnest' is a Uranian pun.... Among less literary Uranians, 'earnest' - a corruption of the French uraniste - enjoyed a short vogue as a coded signifier of Uranian inclinations - as in 'is he earnest?' to mean 'is he gay?'"
Ulrichs spent the last 15 years of his life in Italy. After rediscovering the tomb of Ulrichs in Aquila (about 50 miles northeast of Rome) in 1988, Consoli began annual pilgrimages there on August 28, Ulrichs' birthday, which grew from a handful of participants to large gatherings that attracted gay activists from all over Europe. Last year, thanks to Consoli's efforts, a statue to Ulrichs was erected at his grave, an event that received international media coverage.
Consoli's other important books include "Homocaust," a massive account of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals he spent twenty years researching, which made available for the first time in Italian the violently anti-gay speeches of Nazi leaders. On the wall outside Consoli's study was a framed letter from Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal (LEFT) thanking him for writing the book. Consoli also wrote "Ecce Homo," an account of homosexuality in the Bible; and an autobiography, "Affetti Speciali" (1999), which records the birth and progress of the Italian gay movement.
"I've lived the history of the gay movement - it's inside me," Consoli told the International Herald-Tribune when it profiled him last year. And, he added, "I feel like a historian, but I was forced to be an activist." The newspaper called the autodidact Consoli an "exact researcher."
Consoli's favorite among his books, "Andata & Ritorno" (2003), is an autobiographical novel in which the protagonist's serious illness prompts a review of earlier periods of his life.
Not long before his death, Consoli completed work on a soon-to-be-published biography of the German gay writer Kurt Hiller (1875-1972), a pioneer homosexual liberationist and close colleague of Magnus Hirschfeld who, in 1929, succeeded Hirschfeld as chairman of the gay organization he'd founded, the Scientific Humanitarian Committee, which fought for repeal of the infamous Paragraph 175, Germany's law criminalizing homosexuality.
In 1998, Consoli's huge archive of gay materials and personal papers was acquired by the State Archive of Italy's Ministry of Culture - but only after Consoli had threatened to take the archive out of the country if the state would not agree to conserve it.
At Consoli's death, openly gay Member of Parliament Franco Grillini - co-founder in 1985 of Arcigay, which with some 200,000 members is now Italy's largest national gay organization - said, "Massimo told with energy and passion, in many texts and essays, the reality of gay and lesbian life both in Italy and internationally, and its history. He has been a tireless promoter of the spread of gay culture in Italy. The death of Consoli, with his example of vision and courage, is a serious loss for the Italian LGBT movement and the culture of our country. We promise that we will carry on the many works of Massimo which remained unfinished."
After reposing for public tribute at the Rome offices of Arcigay, Consoli's body will be buried in the non-Catholic cemetery of Rome, at his request next to the body of his dearest friend, the poet Bellazza, who died of AIDS in 1996.
Massimo Consoli maintained an extensive Web site, including many of his hundreds of articles in both the mainstream and gay press, at cybercore.com/consoli/ . It will be kept up by his friends.
November 04, 2007
OBAMA'S ANTI-GAY GAMBLE
I wrote the following two articles for Gay City News -- New York's largest lesbian and gay weekly. The first appeared on October 25; the second on November 1:
Senator Barack Obama (left) has enrolled a trio of notorious anti-gay bigots to campaign for him in the South - and when a blogosphere firestorm erupted over the move, Obama compounded his betrayal of the gay community by refusing to dump the homohaters.
This past weekend, the Illinois Democratic senator's presidential campaign announced a three-day, gospel music campaign tour through South Carolina it billed as "Embrace the Courage" featuring four singers - Reverend Donnie McClurkin, Mary Mary (a sister act duo), and Reverend Hezekiah Walker, all prominent in the gospel world. The tour was designed to mark the final days of Obama's "40 Days of Faith and Family" campaign in South Carolina, a critical early primary state.
McClurkin, an evangelical minister and a Grammy Award-winner, has told the Washington Post that he's in "a war" against what he calls "the curse of homosexuality."
Moreover, McClurkin (right) is the poster boy for the African-American "ex-gay" movement. He claims that he became homosexual after having been molested by relatives when he was eight and 13, but was "cured" by religion.
As McClurkin explained it to Religion and Ethics Newsweekly: "There was a big 20-year gap of sexual ambiguity where after the rape my desires were toward men, and I had to fight those things because I knew that it wasn't what we were taught in church was right. And the older I got, the more that became a problem, because those were the first two sexual relationships that I had. Eight years old and 13 years old. So that's what I was molded into. And I fought that. When I tell you from eight to 28, that was my fight - in the church. And you were in an environment where there were hidden, you know, vultures I call them, that are hidden behind frocks and behind collars and behind - you know, reverends and the deacons, and it becomes a preying ground, a place where the prey is hunted, and that was what it was like."
And, McClurkin, who leads a congregation in Freeport, Long Island, told the Post, "I've been through this and have experienced God's power to change my lifestyle... I am delivered and I know God can deliver others, too."
"The gloves are off and if there's going to be a war, there's going to be a war. But it is a war with a purpose," he said on Pat Robertson's "700 Club," according to a 2004 post on John Arovosis' Americablog.com. "I'm not in the mood to play with those who are trying to kill our children."
But it's not only McClurkin whose star presence on the Obama campaign tour is repulsive. Walker (left), another Grammy Award-winner who is the Pentecostal pastor of a Brooklyn mega-church, the Love Fellowship Tabernacle, has been described as "disturbingly and publicly anti-gay" by "hip-hop intellectual" Professor Mark Lamont Hill of Temple University. (Walker likes to call himself the "hip-hop pastor" for having recorded with Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, a member of his church.)
And the Mary Mary sisters (right) compare gays to murderers and prostitutes. In an interview with Vibe magazine, one of the singers said, "They [Gays] have issues and need somebody to encourage them like everybody else - just like the murderer, just like the one full of pride, just like the prostitute."
Some of the strongest denunciations of these musical bigots headlining Obama's campaign tour have come from African Americans.
For example, H. Alexander Robinson (left), the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, an African-American LGBT group, issued a press release denouncing the McClurkin-Walker-Mary Mary trio's star role in the campaign as "shocking" and "hurtful" because "collectively, these artists have spoken aggressively against the LGBT community without apology."
One of the first to blow the whistle on the Obama gospel music tour was African-American political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson, author of "The Emerging Black GOP Majority." In an October 20 piece for the Huffington Post entitled, "Obama Should Repudiate and Cancel His Gay Bash Tour, and Do It Now," Hutchinson wrote, "Obama ripped a page straight from the Bush campaign playbook."
Hutchinson (right) noted that McClurkin's "last effort on the political scene was his song and shill for Bush's reelection at the Republican National Convention in 2004. Obama has hitched his string to McClurkin's high-flying gay bash kite in part out of religious belief (he purports to be somewhat of an evangelical), in bigger part because he's falling further and further behind Hillary Clinton with the black vote in South Carolina and everywhere else, and in the biggest part of all because he hopes that what worked for Bush's reelection will work for him."
Hutchinson added that McClurkin is "popular, and gospel plays big with blacks in South Carolina, especially black evangelicals, and many of them openly and even more of them quietly loathe gays."
And another African-American blogger, Reverend Irene Monroe (right), a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School, wrote: "In the highly competitive race for black evangelical votes in South Carolina, McClurkin just might give Obama the needed edge. However, that edge will come at a cost far greater than having McClurkin at his side. It comes at revealing how Obama is not only a vote-whore, but a race-card user as well. The Obama/McClurkin alliance introduces Obama to McClurkin's black and white Southern evangelical base, which thinks Obama is neither Christian nor black enough. And many observers are starting to realize just how much of a vote-whore Obama is."
And Monroe added, "Obama is proving that his campaign, marketed as 'The Audacity of Hope,' is really based on the audacity of hypocrisy."
So quickly and widely did unhappiness spread among Obama's own supporters over the anti-gay singers' lead campaign role that his campaign manager was forced to schedule a conference call with big gay financial contributors to the senator to try to justify the tour.
But even though he had an opportunity to cut himself loose from the bigots after the controversy over them broke, Obama didn't exactly "embrace the courage." He contented himself with issuing a press release in which he said, "I strongly believe that African Americans and the LGBT community must stand together in the fight for equal rights. And so I strongly disagree with Reverend McClurkin's views and will continue to fight for these rights as president of the United States to ensure that America is a country that spreads tolerance instead of division."
But the anti-gay bigots stay on the campaign tour. The candidate pledged to add an out gay minister to the roster though none has been named.
It's worth noting that Obama's campaign Web site posted his disagreement with McClurkin only in its LGBT section - but not with the other press releases.
If a presidential candidate had been caught scheduling a vote-getting tour with a trio of anti-Semites, that candidate would be toast. And even if one is generous enough to ascribe scheduling the tour with the gay-hating gospel singers to lousy staff work, when Obama had the chance to step away from them and cancel their role in the tour, he didn't do it.
Obama has been a loud god-botherer ever since he announced he was running for president - it's the reason he's refused to endorse marriage equality for same-sexers. And the dangers of mixing religion and politics were never more glaring than in this latest episode.
Obama's cynical, vote-seeking gamble that he can pander to Southern bigotry by campaigning with the anti-gay gospel trio while mouthing pro-gay platitudes, and get away with it, shows that he's just a bloviating empty suit from the Windy City.
PART II: GOSPEL PREACHER'S ANTI-GAY RANT AT OBAMA CONCERT
The controversy over what Mother Jones magazine called Senator Barack Obama's "pander-to-black-hatred tour" featuring homophobic "ex-gay" preacher-singer Donnie McClurkin continued this past week.
An Obama gospel concert was held on Sunday, October 28, in Columbia, South Carolina as the final stage in what the presidential candidate billed as a "Forty Days of Faith and Family" tour of the Palmetto State. A September poll conducted by Winthrop University and ETV showed that 74 percent of South Carolina African Americans believe homosexuality is "unacceptable."
In an attempt to mollify the widespread protests by the LGBT community over McClurkin's appearance, the Obama campaign had hastily arranged at the last minute for an openly gay South Carolina pastor, Andy Sidden, to join the roster at the concert. But Sidden's appearance was notably brief and anti-climactic; he said a short prayer to the auditorium at the very beginning of the program, when the arena was only about half full, and then he left.
The Obama campaign had assured members of the LGBT community that McClurkin - who has told the Washington Post that he's in "a war" against what he calls "the curse of homosexuality" - would not use the event to speak against what he claims is "the choice" of homosexuality.
Instead, McClurkin (left) delivered what outspoken Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan, who is openly gay, afterward described on his blog as a "rant."
McClurkin, in his impassioned, angry outburst at his gay critics - who, he claimed, were trying to "vilify" him - shouted, "God delivered me from homosexuality!" A portion of his remarks at the concert can be seen by clicking here
Sullivan, who just two nights earlier had sidestepped a question about the gospel singer's connection to the campaign on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher," wrote, "McClurkin, in short, should never have been allowed to speak at this event, because his words are inherently divisive, his record of comments on gay people offensive, and the point of the event was allegedly unifying... I still believe that broadly speaking, [Obama's] is the only major candidacy right now that offers the kind of change we need. But what happened on that stage was inexcusable, stupid, and damaging. I don't blame any gay American for jumping the Obama ship over it."
One of Obama's most prominent gay supporters has already quit the campaign over the McClurkin affair - Bob Farmer, whom the Washington Post has called a "legendary fundraiser." The openly gay Farmer, who is from Boston, first came to national prominence as chief fundraiser for the 1988 presidential drive of then-Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis; served as finance chair of the Democratic National Committee during President George H.W. Bush's administration; was a top fundraiser for Bill Clinton; and in 2004 served as national treasurer for John Kerry's presidential campaign.
Farmer resigned from the Obama campaign last Friday, in what a source close to him told this reporter was "disgust" at Obama's refusal to cancel McClurkin's campaign appearance after the protests against it began.
Meanwhile, African-American journalist Clay Cane, who writes for Vibe magazine, published a lengthy interview this Tuesday on his blog (http://claycane.blogspot.com/) with a man who claimed he had a sexual affair with McClurkin "twice a month" from 2001 to 2004, which Cane noted "is ironically during the height of McClurkin's anti-gay rants and calls for conversion."
The man, who was identified only with the pseudonym "Rob," said that McClurkin's preaching against homosexuality and claims to have been "cured" of it by Christ are phony and hypocritical.
"Rob" said that McClurkin "gets into role playing, which is of course he's the bottom and he wants you to treat him rough. He wants to talk rough and that's not my demeanor, that's not in me. I can play a role and I did it, but I didn't feel comfortable because it wasn't me. I felt stupid actually... He was like a different person, the tone of his voice. He referred to his asshole as 'pussy.' Stuff like that, 'You want to fuck this pussy, don't you?' You know that type of thing."
Asked by Cane, "Was there any talk in your conversations about being gay is wrong, this is an abomination, or conversion?" the man called "Rob" replied, "Early on, no - he would relate it to being lonely. Not being able to be who you really want to be, who you are, and that was a little later. I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'Well, I'm in gospel, I have fans, I'm about to start this church, and the church has a lot of promise. It can be a big thing,' which it ended up being. He said, 'I have a position to uphold and I have an image, but the thing is I know who I am and I'm going to have to work on some things; I have some things to work on.' I said, 'Is it that simple? Can you just work on it like that? Cut on a switch'... He feels that he has to say that to please people. He said, 'I don't want people to believe that I'm still doing it.'"
At the same time, the Obama campaign released a statement signed by some of its religious and gay supporters in support of McClurkin's campaign appearance, claiming that an event starring the anti-gay preacher was part of Obama's commitment to "dialogue."
The pronouncement asserted that while "Obama has said that he 'strongly disagrees' with Pastor McClurkin's comments, he will not exclude from his campaign the many Americans including many in the African-American community who believe the same as Pastor McClurkin."
Furthermore, the statement said, "We believe that Barack Obama is constructing a tent big enough for LGBT Americans who know that their sexual orientation is an innate and treasured part of their being, and for African-American ministers and citizens who believe that their religion prevents them from fully embracing their gay brothers and sisters. And if we are to confront our shared challenges we have to join together, build on common ground, and engage in a civil dialogue even when we disagree."
A majority of the seven non-religious gay signatories to the statement were identified by the Obama campaign as former directors or staff members of the Human Rights Campaign.
Condemnation of the Obama campaign's statement was swift in the blogosphere. For example, John Aravosis, writing on his AmericaBlog, said, "I simply don't believe that Obama would have the same reaction, be just as welcoming, if we were talking about racists or anti-Semites. He wouldn't say that we're all one big tent. He would kick the racist or the anti-Semite to the curb. Not to mention, 'the big tent' concept traditionally means people who have differing political views, even differing political loyalties (Republican and Democrat). I've never heard a politician invoke the big tent to mean racists and their victims. "
Aravosis went on to write, "This is new. And it's terribly unnerving. I mean, we're to believe that the fact that Obama, alone among Democratic candidates, is willing to openly welcome bigots into his campaign makes him the best candidate for voters concerned about civil rights. And the corollary, the worst candidate for someone who cares about civil rights is the candidate who actually stands up against the bigots. So the best way to promote tolerance is to tolerate and embrace intolerance?"
Aravosis called that logic "wacked."
And in the wake of McClurkin's South Carolina appearance and the Obama campaign statement embracing those who think like McClurkin, openly gay African-American writer and film critic David Ehrenstein wrote - in a Los Angeles Times op-ed October 31 - that Obama's "continued relevance to gay and lesbian African Americans is over."
For complete background on the Obama-McClurkin controversy, see this reporter's article in last week's Gay City News, "Obama's Anti-Gay Gamble," the online version of which is linked from this story on gaycitynews.com. Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typead.com/direland.