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December 20, 2007

MY NEW WEEKLY COLUMN, FOR FRANCE...

   Bakchich_front_page   I thought DIRELAND readers might be interested in knowing that, in addition to my other journalistic chores,  I've just signed on as a weekly columnist with the exciting new French political-investigative weekly, BAKCHICH. The conceit of this new column, which I write in French, will be to shine a light on aspects of America's politics, social conflicts, and role in the world which the French press has ignored, misinterpreted, or to which it has given short shrift.

BAKCHICH is edited by a very fine investigative journalist, Nicolas Beau (lower right), a former star reporter at my other favorite French weekly, Le Canard enchaîné, and author of numerous books, among them: a superb and revealing investigative exposé of  Bernard-Henri Levy, "Une imposture francaiseNicolas_beau_head "; a dissection of the Tunisian dictator, "Notre Ami Ben Ali"; and he is co-author (with Catherine Graciet) of an excellent, recently-published book on Morocco's dangerous future, "Quand le Maroc sera Islamiste."

I'm happy to join this irreverent, iconoclastic weekly with a sense of humor and participate in its efforts to bring more sharp-eyed investigative journalism to France, where that practice has never been very much a part of the media scene. BAKCHICH is available online at: http://www.bakchich.info/ ,and my first column for them, "Iran: le Plan B des Neo-Conservateurs," you can read by clicking here.

Posted by Direland at 05:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

December 15, 2007

IRAN: LOGO TV FAILS MAKWAN--AGAIN!

The following is a response to the letter written for Queerty by Jason Bellini (right), newsJason_bellini1   anchor of LOGO, the national gay TV network that is owned by Viacom/MTV, in response to a criticism of LOGO I'd written earlier:

Dear Jason,
     I just caught a re-run of the December 10 news broadcast you hosted on LOGO in which you dealt with the execution of 21-year-old Makwan Moloudzadeh in Iran -- the broadcast you boasted about in the letter you wrote for Queerty replying to my criticism of the half-hour, end-of-the-year news review for ignoring the persecution and execution of Iranian LGBTers, including Makwan, in its discussion of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It's a slightly belated addition to my first rejoinder to your letter, now that I've had a chance to see the Makwan piece to which you referred.

Makwan_moloudzadehThere's nothing in that LOGO report on Makwan (left) that anyone should have the chutzpah to boast about, however. You devoted about four sentences and 15 seconds to Makwan, and confined your report to saying he was executed for an act of sodomy committed when he was 13. Period.

No mention of the fact that there was NO evidence presented against Makwan, or that the plaintiffs against him had all recanted, in court, their statements to police about Makwan, and said they were false and had been extracted under pressure (under torture, reported the courageous Iranian journalist who covered the case.)

No mention on your air that the verdict was based solely on the supposition of the clerical judge who sentenced him to death, or of the other whopping irregularities in his trial. And no mention that the verdict was a violation of international law. Not a word.

No mention, either, of the fact that the trial was denounced as a horrific miscarriage of justice by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Gay and Paula_ettelbrick Lesbian Human Rights Commission --  whose executive director, Paula Ettelbrick (left), had said (in a press release issued well before your broadcast, as were the condemnations of the trial and verdict by AI and HRW), "This is a shameful and outrageous travesty of justice and international human rights law. How many more young Iranians have to die before the international community takes action?" That's a fairly pithy and highly significant indictment of Makwan's execution and makes the point that Makwan's is only one of many executions of LGBT people in Iran (the very point I took LOGO to task for omitting in your end-of-the year news review.) It would have taken only another 5 seconds to include those two sentences from IGLHRC in your report. But you and your producers ignored IGLHRC's view of the case entirely.

LOGO is supposed to be a gay network -- yet it doesn't see fit to report what the leadingHossein_alizadeh  U.S. gay organization on international issues, which has a native Iranian staff member, the excellent Hossein Alizadeh (right), said about Makwan's murder by the Iranian regime?

The European Union had already denounced the trial and asked the Iranian government to halt the execution, and denounced it afterwards, again before your broadcast. No mention of that -- or of the protests from the governments of a half-dozen other countries led by France -- on your broadcast either.

It's now December 15, and you haven't bothered to update your Makwan report -- LOGO is still running the hugely outdated and abbreviated one from five days previously. My own extensive report  -- including a lengthy interview with the only Iranian journalist to have covered the case -- appeared on December 6, just one day after the execution, and four days before your broadcast. You're a New Yorker, New York is the h.q. of LOGO's news operation, and I presume that either you or someone on the LOGO news staff are on the e-mail list of New York's Gay City News, for which I wrote my report, and which advance-posted it and sent out an e-mail alert about it. I even sent you a link to the article myself as soon as it was posted. Yet, although a wealth of detail about the trial, and the denunciation of this fake verdict by IGHLRC etc. well before your broadcast, were in my readily available article, not a hint of any of this found its way into LOGO's report. But even if you or your colleagues didn't see my report for some strange reason, surely you got IGLHRC's press release. And may I remind you that your on-air report came only AFTER I'd already written to you to protest your failure to even mention Makwan and the many other executions of LGBT people in Iran in the Ahmadinejad segment of LOGO's Top Ten Stories of the Year broadcast, which didn't even say that homosexuality is a capital crime in Iran.

You barely had to take a breath to deliver your blink-of-an-eye "item" on the Makwan case, so brief and devoid of facts was it. If this is LOGO's idea of the way a gay network should have reported on the tragic and inexcusable hanging of Makwan, I find that sad and depressing.

You and your colleagues did make time, however, to air (and as the broadcast's lead piece, no less) an interview with Mike Jones, the prostitute who says Larry Craig once hired him -- and a fellow whom the man who first outed Craig, Mike Rogers of blogactive.com, who knows more about the case than anyone, judges to be an unreliable witness on Craig (after all, Jones' dubious hop onto the bandwagon of Craig case publicity, which has been huge in all media, came just at the moment he has a book to sell --  pure coincidence I'm sure.) Compare LOGO's three-minute piece on the questionable assertions of Jones to the hiccup you gave to Makwan in the same broadcast, and I'd call that a very wrongly skewed prioritization of what's news.

If you'd like to catch up on what you missed on the execution of Makwan Moloudzadeh, my article on the state murder of Makwan has been updated and is available at
http://gaycitynews.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=19092040&BRD=2729&PAG=461&dept_id=568864&rfi=6
It contains significant fresh reporting, including a lengthy interview with Makwan's lawyer (as well as my earlier interview with the only Iranian journalist to cover the case in the Iranian pess. Makwan's lawyer underscores in even more detail why the trial was not only a farce but the verdict illegal even under Iranian law. Pity no mention of that made its way onto LOGO's air.

Your half-hour broadcast is titled, "CBS News on LOGO." CBS News, of course, has resources that dwarf mine and those of Gay City News --  including people on the ground in Tehran and a host of researchers. Which makes the failure of the LOGO broadcast you hosted to properly cover the Makwan case or to provide even a minimum of information about the cooked verdict that put a noose around the poor lad's neck all the more inexplicable.

Yours, Doug

Posted by Direland at 12:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 13, 2007

SHAME ON THE DES MOINES REGISTER FOR EXCLUDING KUCINICH AND GRAVEL!

To the Editor, Des Moines Register, letters@dmreg.com:

As a journalist who has covered politics for three decades, I was Des_moines_register_logoappalled to discover that you had excluded both Congressman Dennis Kucinich and former Senator Mike Gravel from your presidential debate when I tuned into it today.

Your rationale for so doing -- that neither man had an office in the state -- amounts to a monetary test of the worth of a candidate and of that candidate's ideas. Yet, in excluding these two men from the debate, you have eliminated the two candidates who most clearly and unambiguously express the views of the many voters in the left wing of the Democratic Party.

Dennis_kucinich At the same time, yesterday you accorded a place in the RepublicanMike_gravel  debate you sponsored to a candidate infinitely more marginal than either Kucinich (left) or Gravel (right) -- both of whom have held high public office -- although Alan Keyes, who refuses to discuss the real issues in this campaign and answers every question with a formulaic religious response, has never been elected to anything in the several states in which he has presented himself before the voters for Senate. Can you really pretend that the exclusion of Kucinich and Gravel is fair, and not arbitrary and discriminatory, when you include Keyes?

All the nation is watching Iowa and its caucuses. You are not running some little local debate for which arcane local criteria should be used to impose a "means test" as to who can participate. Your amputated debate deprives Kucinich and Gravel of a chance to present their ideas to the viewers of CNN, MSNBC, and C-SPAN, all of which are airing the debate for a national audience. Moreover, as the last debate before the Iowa caucuses, this may be the best-watched debate nationally so far.

Your action in excluding Kucinish and Gravel was also a particular slap in the face to millions and millions of lesbian and gay Americans across the country, including in Iowa, for they are the only two candidates to support full marriage equality for same-sex couples.

By denying the opportunity to speak to Kucinich and Gravel, you disenfranchise the two candidates' supporters across the country, sharply curtail the range of views and ideas available to all U.S. voters in the national TV audience, truncate the debate of ideas, skew the debate to the right, betray fundamental democratic principles, and deny the right to equal access by candidates to the public's airwaves.

You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Sincerely, DOUG IRELAND

Posted by Direland at 03:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

December 11, 2007

"WAITING FOR PASOLINI"-- from Morocco, a prize-winning new film

Regular readers of this blog will know of my intense admiration for Pier Paolo Pasolini -- Pasolini_trencoat_better_print the immensely influential and openly gay Italian cultural giant (right) who is ranked among a handful of world-class poets in the second half of the last century, and was an inspired and original filmmaker to boot.

Well, my fellow Pasolinians will be interested to know that Moroccan filmmaker Daoud Aoula-Syad's new film, entitled "Waiting for Pasolini," has just won the prize at the 31st Cairo Film Festival for Best Arab Feature, with an award of 150,000 Egyptian pounds, as Variety reports.

Why is a Moroccan making a film about Pasolini? Thanks to David Hudson, the blogging guru of the must-read for film buffs, Greenciné Daily -- who, when I queried him about this new film, kindly dug up the following -- I can bring you a description of "Waiting for Pasolini," which Salwa Salem wrote for the multi-lingual Mediterranean news service ANSAmed:

"In a village in the middle of nowhere in Morocco, satellite dish salesman Thami announces to his fellow villagers the imminent arrival of a troupe of Italian film makers who will shoot a film there, thus triggering cinema fever. So begins ''Waiting for Pasolini'', the comedy by Moroccan film director Daoud Aoula-Syad presented yesterday in an international preview at the Cinema Festival of Cairo. ''I wanted to render homage to the great master of Italian cinema, whom I admire and I have studied for many years,'' the Moroccan film maker - who affirmed to have been influenced in his career also by 'Effetto notte' ['La nuit américaine'] by Truffaut, in which cinema emerges from the studio to strike a greater chord with audiences - explained to ANSAmed. ''Waiting for Pasolini'' is a bittersweet comedy which offers many hilarious moments, but also a cross section of a Moroccan village, which has contacts with the outside world only through satellite TV and suddenly becomes involved in the movie world. After the announcement by the satellite dish seller, mayhem erupts in the village, with children running in the streets shouting ''the cinema is coming'', while all the residents get ready to appear like walk-ons in the film, from the women who rush to put on their make up, to the old people, not at all distrustful, to Fakih, the preacher of the local mosque. Such is the level of excitement that it seems that the arrival of the cinema troupe will solve all the problems in the small village: debts will be repaid, books, chalks and uniforms for the school will be delivered, a new house will be built, and those who were never able to make it, will go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. ''Pasolini will pay amounts which will be sufficient for you, for the lives of your children and grandchildren,'' Thami tells the citizens of the village, boasting to be a friend of Pasolini.

''I shot the film in documentary style, drawing inspiration from a documentary made by one of my Moroccan colleagues about the walk-ons [extras] used by Pasolini while shooting 'Edipo Re' ['Oedipus Rex' ] in 1996 in a rural village, not far fromPasolini_edipo_re  the city of Ouzazarat, in southern Morocco,'' says Daoud Aoula-Syad, who shows with great intensity the disappointment of Thami at the news of the death of Pasolini, 30 years before. The man falls on his knees in front of the poster of the Italian artists hanging in his house and asks: ''Why did you die? Why didn't you wait for me?''. But it will be even worse for Thami when he will have to explain to his fellow villagers why Pasolini will not come and why the Italian troupe dismantles everything and leaves the village after just two days of shooting. ''And in the end,'' the director says ''there is nothing else left for Thami to do than go back to climbing on roofs and installing satellite dishes, with the awareness that Pasolini will never come again and that cinema is now tailored exclusively for the TV.''

Sounds like a very interesting film, and Daoud Aoula-Syad's comments above show Pier Paolo Pasolini's continuing influence around the globe -- let's hope "Waiting for Pasolini" makes it to the States!

FOR MORE ON PASOLINI, see my widely-reprinted article for the L.A. Weekly, "RESTORING PASOLINI: Thirty years later, new questions arise about who murdered the Italian cultural genius"; as well as the inspiring Pasolini poem, "Victory," hitherto unavailable in English, which DIRELAND was privileged to publish in exclusivity on the 30th anniversary of Pier Paolo's murder -- you can read this magnificent poem by clicking here.

Posted by Direland at 05:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

December 09, 2007

IRAN: STATE MURDER FOR SEX AT 13 -- The Tragic Case of Makwan Moloudzadeh

Makwan_moloudzadeh I wrote the following article for Gay City News; FOR A SUBSEQUENTLY UPDATED VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE WITH SIGNIFICANT FRESH REPORTING, INCLUDING A LENGTHY INTERVIEW WITH THE HANGED LAD'S LAWYER IN IRAN, CLICK HERE.

The Islamic Republic of Iran murdered Makwan Moloudzadeh (left), a lad of 21, on the cold morning of December 5. Makwan was dragged at dawn from his jail cell in the Kermanshah Central Prison and hanged in secret within the prison, without the required presence of his lawyer and family, for the so-called "crime" of having had anal sexual relations, which the authorities claimed was rape, with boys of his own age eight years ago, when he was 13.

Given witness recantings during his trial, it is impossible to know what, if in fact anything, actually transpired.

Amnesty International released a statement denouncing the execution as a "mockery of justice." The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission's executive director, Paula Ettelbrick, said in a statement, "This is a shameful and outrageous travesty of justice and international human rights law. How many more young Iranians have to die before the international community takes action?"

And the trial of Makwan, held in June, was indeed a farce

"The only witnesses who had given statements to the intelligence police saying they had been raped by Makwan came into court and repudiated those statements, saying that they had been extracted under torture," the only Iranian journalist to have covered Makwan's case extensively, Mitra Khalatbari of the newspaper Etemade Melli, told this reporter by telephone from Tehran.

Khalatbari, who covered the story for months and courageously agreed to speak on the record to Gay City News, added, "Makwan himself told the judge that his admission to the Intelligence Police that he had had anal sex with one boy in 1999 was also obtained by torture, and that he now denied it and proclaimed his innocence."

Prior to his execution, Makwan engaged in a hunger strike of ten days to protest the physical and psychological torture he'd been subjected to while in custody to make him confess.

"There was no other evidence," Khalatbari, speaking through a translator, told Gay City News.

"The judge did not bother to order medical examinations to see if rape had taken place, nor did he bother to order medical examinations to see if torture of the witnesses had taken place," she continued.

"The judge's verdict of guilty, and his sentence of Makwan to death, was based purely on his personal speculation," she added.

As punishment for his hunger strike, Makwan - after having had his head completely shaved, a grave insult in Iranian culture - was paraded by police through the streets of his home town of Paveh on the back of a donkey, as police permitted passersby to hurl insults and invective at him and pelt him with stones, eggs, and other objects.

The state murder of young Makwan - who was only 20 if one uses an American calendar, but 21 if one uses an Iranian calendar - was triply illegal, in violation of international law and Iranian law.

Two international treaties to which Iran is a signatory - the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child - both forbid the imposition of the death penalty bar for crimes committed before the age of 18. As Human Rights Watch pointed out, "These provisions reflect the reality that children are different from adults. They lack the experience, judgment, maturity, and restraint of an adult."

Iran has ratified both those treaties, and has taken no steps to abrogate or nullify them.

And, although the Islamic Republic of Iran is one of only nine countries in which homosexuality is still punishable by death, the Iranian penal code forbids execution for sodomy of anyone who is not at least 15 years old - and Makwan was just 13 at the time of the alleged crime.

Moreover, journalist Khalatbari told me, "Iran's chief justice, Ayatollah Seyed MahmoudShahudi_khomeini_3   Hashemi Shahrudi, declared Makwan's death sentence to be against the principles of Islam, citing a religious decree issued by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Ayatollah Shahrudi then ordered the execution halted until there could be a retrial." (Photo: Chief Justice Ayatollah Shahrudi, on the left, with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, the countrys top religious authority.)

"A few days later," according to Khalatbari, "the case was sent to Tehran, and despite the chief justice's opinion, Makwan's death sentence was confirmed and sent back to Kermanshah for immediate implementation," in an obvious attempt to rush through the execution before the retrial Shahrudi had ordered.

Khalatbari told me that "even in the last hours of Makwan's life, the authorities continued to break the law. The execution order specified that he was to be hanged in the public park in Paveh where the so-called rapes had been committed - that would probably have happened on a 'public day,' like the coming Friday. Instead, he was hastily executed in secret, on Wednesday, in the Kermanshah Prison. There was no prior notification of the execution to the family or the lawyer, as the law requires, so Makwan's lawyer was not allowed to be present, as the law also requires.

"Thus, Makwan was not allowed to say goodbye to his family, nor were there any plaintiffs present at the place of execution with whom Makwan could plead for his life and ask their forgiveness to escape death."

Khalatbari heard about the execution when she got a phone call from Makwan's lawyer while she was in a bank.

"I was so very upset I left all my documents in the bank - I didn't realize it until the bank called me to tell me I'd left all my things there," she told this reporter.

Khalatbari immediately returned to her newspaper, Etemade Melli, and wrote a stinging account of the manipulations of the Justice System (Qoveyeqazaiye, which includes all judiciary and prosecutors) and other authorities to bypass the chief judge's "stop and re-try" order and proceed in surreptitious fashion to execute Makwan.

But after reading Khalatbari's article, the editorial board of Etemade Melli refused to publish it.

I asked Khalatbari why.

She replied, "They are constantly afraid that the newspaper will be closed, and they thought I challenged the Justice System too directly."

Etemade Melli is controlled by one of President Mahmood Ahmadinejad's opponents in the last presidential election, the Hojatalislam Mehdi Karobi, a former speaker of the Iranian parliament who placed third in the 2005 contest.

After her article was rejected, Khalatbari said, "I cried all the way from the newspaper's office to home, thinking about how unfairly Makwan was executed. But all this crying didn't calm me down. Indeed, today was one of the worse days of my journalistic career. I've had many bad days, but I have never been so sad.

"I want to apologize to Makwan's father and uncle... maybe we didn't do enough. Maybe. With the execution of Makwan, I feel like I have lost a member of my own family," Khalatbari concluded. .

As many as 78 minor Iranian children are facing execution right now in Iran, as are several dozen more Afghan children arrested in cross-border smuggling operations. In June, Amnesty International issued a report entitled "Iran: Last Executioner of Children;" which you can read online at http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engmde130592007.

Hossein Alizadeh, communications director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, a gay native Iranian granted asylum here as a refugee from sexual persecution, provided translation services for this article.

Posted by Direland at 06:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

December 01, 2007

CHARLES KING'S CHALLENGE TO THE GAY COMMUNITY: STOP IGNORING AIDS! The full text of King's World AIDS Day keynote speech in San Francisco

Aids_ribbon_blwh_hands Last year at this time, DIRELAND reprinted the important World AIDS Day speech in San Francisco by POZ magazine founder and longtime LGBT and AIDS activist Sean Strub (right) on "What's Wrong With the AIDS Movement? Why We're Losing theSean_strub_2  Fight to Stop AIDS.". In that speech, Sean decried the purge of HIV+ people from the leadership of the nation's AIDS service organizations, and argued for a renewed activist strategy for the AIDS fight. This year, at Sean's suggestion, Sean recommended to the San Francisco organizers of the World AIDS Day observances there that they invite Charles King -- the president and CEO of Housing Works, the AIDS service organization I most admire -- to give the keynote speech at the City by the Bay's observance of this day.

Charles_king King (left) was an inspired choice -- Housing Works, under his leadership, continues to unfailingly embody the activist spirit that animated the "first wave" of gay-led AIDS-fighting in the earliest years of the pandemic. After all, Housing Works -- founded in 1990 -- grew out of the original ACT UP Housing Committee, and was initially about taking responsibility for the 30,000 homeless then dying of AIDS in New York City.Today, Housing Works is the largest grassroots AIDS service organization in the country, with a $35 million budget and a wide range of programs -- and its also the largest minority-controlled ASO to boot. Among the many movement- inspired activities at Housing Works, the organization serves as the headquarters for, and staffs, the Campaign to End AIDS, the exciting national activist coalition it helped to launch, which is trying valiantly to re-inject some life and militancy into the struggle against AIDS, in contrast to the often sluggish, arteriosclerotic, and self-serving institutional AIDS bureaucracy typified by AIDS Action -- the largest Washington AIDS lobby that bills itself as the so-called "national voice on AIDS,", represents the 3000-plus AIDS service organizations around the country, and which often seems to ignore most AIDS issues to concentrate on  the Ryan White Act funding that pays the munificent salaries of those orgs' e.d.s (it's a burreaucracy which even a mainstream figure like Barney Frank has sarcastically condemned as "AIDS Inc.")

If you do only one thing for World AIDS Day this year, read Charles King's speech in San Francisco, reprinted below. It's an impassioned challenge to the institutional gay community, which has largely turned away from the AIDS fight, and it analyzes the nexus of class and race that is at the heart of the gay community's current AIDS fatigue. Here is that speech:

Thank you for inviting me to join you today in commemorating World AIDS Day at the National AIDS Memorial here in this beautiful park.

You know, at least from superficial reports, today ought to be a day of celebration.  Just two weeks ago, UNAIDS announced a recalculation of the global AIDS pandemic, reducing the number of people living with AIDS world-wide from 39.5 million to 33.2 million persons, and the number of annual deaths from 3 million persons to only 2.5 million.

Not only that, but there is also considerable news on the treatment front.  The latest generation of treatments is so effective that I heard Martin Delaney of Project Inform just last month declare that even people who months ago had what were considered salvage options, assuming they have access to treatment of care and are reasonably adherent, can now expect to die of maladies related to old age, and not conditions associated with the virus.

Sadly, it takes only a slightly more penetrating look to see why this is emphatically not a day for celebration!  The UNAIDS announcement was largely due to statistical adjustments, and with a few exceptions, had little to nothing to do we any meaningful success in our efforts to end the disease.  And even while UNAIDS was lowering its figures, the CDC is reportedly struggling with how to make the politically sensitive announcement that it has been under-forecasting the rate of HIV infection in the United States for the last several years by nearly 50%.  At 2.5 million annual deaths, AIDS is still the world’s leading killer, and new infections around the globe still continue to soar among young women, girls, injection drug users, and, above all, young men who have sex with other men.

As for Martin Delaney’s prognostications, his qualifier is critical.  For the truth is that less than 50% of the people living with HIV here in the United States have access to primary care, much less the latest greatest drugs couple with sophisticated lab tests that are read by HIV-specialty care providers.  And around the globe, less than one third of people who are in need, as defined by an appallingly low t-cell count of less than 200, have access to any treatment, much less access to the latest and greatest.

The sad and damning truth, my friends, is that while many of us merrily pop our pills every morning and go on with our lives as if the crisis had ended, we are still loosing that battle against the AIDS epidemic in the

United States

and the pandemic around the globe.

Now this is the point in my speech where I usually rail against the powers that be.  I point out that ending this pandemic is already possible even without a vaccine or a cure, that it’s not rocket science, just common sense, and then go into my rant about how it is not a lack of resources, but a lack of political will.  All of the above is, in fact, quite true.  But it’s just not for today’s speech.

Instead, standing here as I am in

San Francisco

, pulsing with the heartbeat of Gay America, I’m moved to ask why so much of the gay community, my community, has given up on the fight against AIDS.  I really don’t mean to give offense.  And while I have been accused at times of being provocative, it’s a sincere question:  Why has so much of the gay community walked away from the battle against AIDS? 

Some of you here today are perhaps too young to remember the way it was in the 80’s.  First there was the quiet dread, which grew to a sense of terror as friend after friend began to get sick, quickly loose weight, and then die.  There was that awful sense of helplessness, confusion and then rage as we died and the world did nothing.  And then we began to organize and to fight.  I remember attending my first meeting of ACT-UP New York in the summer of 1987.  Standing in the back of a packed room at the Gay and

Lesbian

Community Center

, I found myself heaving dry sobs, hoping no one could see my visceral reaction.

At last there was something I could do.  I could fight back.  And even if we didn’t win, I wouldn’t be going down alone.  At the time, I was still HIV negative.  But, like many others in my circumstance, AIDS had already taken over my life, dragging me out of the closet and, in doing so, effectively destroying my career as a young Baptist minister.  So it didn’t matter that the virus had not yet tainted my blood. As a gay man, I was living with AIDS, and I was willing to do what ever it took to bring the plague to an end. 

The next three years were a blur of adrenaline: Fighting back at the Republican Convention in New Orleans, handcuffed to a bureaucrat’s desk in New York City, scaling the walls of the CDC, chaining ourselves to the FDA, planting tombstones at the NIH and then throwing colorful flares when the police on horseback began to charge our line.

Throwing our bodies on the line, we were a veritable band of brothers, fatalistic, cynical, but willing to fight to the end.  The AZT chant said it all:  “One drug, a billion dollars, big deal!”  But then things really did begin to change.  We had forced the government, and scientists and the health care industry to respond.  And so we starting daring to hope.

I hope none of you think I am romanticizing those horrible days.  And I don’t want anyone to think I am discounting the great number of lesbians and somewhat smaller collection of straight allies in our midst.  But for gay men, it was inevitably a different experience.  To be sure there was a lot of love, and even a fair amount of sex.  But all too often the guy who had led the charge, or who had told the funniest stories sitting up overnight in jail cell, showed up at the next week’s meeting with those horrible purple lesions that inevitably spelled death…and we tried not to pull away even as we looked furtively at our own bodies to make sure we had not yet been tagged by the reaper.

In the 90’s the time for marching seemed to have at least faded, if not going completely away.  The government spigots had begun to open, as had private pockets, to an unparalleled degree.  We had a new challenge.  Many of us who had manned the barricades felt called to undertake the challenge of building organizations to serve our own, and then to serve others who had been left out.  Some of us built housing or expanded services, while others went to work in health care and in research, or even the bureaucracy of government, all still seeing our every day’s work as a critical part of the same struggle.  Even as we were building new careers, we told ourselves we were still a part of bringing AIDS to an end.

Maybe it occurred earlier, but I still see Andrew Sullivan’s article, “When Plagues End”, published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on November 10, 1996, as the turning point.  Perhaps he was only verbalizing the sentiment felt silently felt by many others when he declared, “For me the AIDS crisis is over.”  But those words, whether spoken by Sullivan or only heard in our own minds, gave permission for thousands of gay men and our lesbian comrades, even those of us living with the virus, to abandon the battlefield, secure in the knowledge that, for us, at least, the crisis was over.

There is no denying that a material change had taken place.  I remember in 1989, going with Keith Cylar, my now deceased partner to get his test result after a bout of thrush.  Though he lived until 2004, the threat of death never lifted.  When I, on the other-hand, sero-converted shortly after the turn of the century, it was already clear that I would have a full range of options that would allow me to manage the virus well into my senior years.  But I have to admit that I am also in an extremely privileged position.  Not only do I have great health insurance and personally know some of the best AIDS specialists in the world, but even if I lose my job, I live in a state that guarantees that I will always have access to health care, including even the most expensive AIDS medications.

It wasn’t just individuals who moved on once HAART therapy became available.  Rather, it seems that sometime in the late 90’s, the entire organized gay and lesbian community voted by a clear majority that it was time to move on from AIDS to more pressing issues.

This consensus was driven home to me just a couple of years ago, when I was invited to keynote the annual banquet of Equality Alabama, and specifically to speak on the Campaign to End AIDS.  A few weeks before the event, I received an e-mail indicating that the schedule had been revised.  Evan Wolfson, of Marriage Equality had been invited to keynote in my stead.  I called the chair of the planning committee to inquire and was told, “Most of our membership just felt that marriage is a more pressing issue for us right now.”

As consolation, I was given a workshop that afternoon….scheduled for the same time as Evan’s workshop on the gay marriage campaign.  Now, I count Evan as a friend, and I certainly don’t want to sound like sour grapes, but the marriage workshop was packed out, standing room only, with more than two hundred people in the room.  I had an attendance of five, two of whom were already die-hard C2EA activists.

Would it surprise you if I told you that out of several hundred people in attendance at the banquet that night, only a tiny handful were people of color?  Would it surprise you to know that the largest constituency of people living with HIV in

Alabama

is men who have sex with men?  And would it surprise you to know that more than 70% of people living with HIV in

Alabama

are African American?

I think you and I know why the gay community moved on once HAART became available.  Let’s face it, Andrew Sullivan was right.  For the vast majority of white gay men of even moderate income in the

United States

, AIDS ended as a crisis once the drugs came on line.  We no longer had to watch our friends die or live ourselves in fear of the plague.  In fact, whether because we headed prevention advice, or because we were just lucky, the statistics suggest that more than 75% of us are HIV negative.  And because we often travel in packs that look like ourselves, AIDS for many of us is no longer even personal.

Of course the story is completely different if you are a Black gay or bi-sexual man.  In that case, they odds are closer to one in two that you are infected.  And you are far more likely than a white man to learn of your infection after you have had an AIDS-defining event, meaning the available treatments are going to be far less successful.  While less dramatic, the difference is also obvious if you are a Latino gay man in the

United States

today.

I know that

New York

,

San Francisco

and

L.A.

have all at one time or another claimed to be the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in the

United States

.  But a recent study underscores what many of us have known for a while now.  The true epicenter of the epidemic today is

Washington

,

D.C.

  In our Nation’s capital today, now more than one in every 20 people is living with HIV.  And the more damning statistic:  One out of every 7 Black men living in Washington, D.C. is infected with HIV….and, of course, the lion’s share of these men are men who are having sex with other men, whether we claim them as members of our community or not.

The reality is that AIDS is no longer so much a gay disease in the

United States

as it is a disease of race and poverty.  And that brings to light a dirty secret about the organized and politically engaged gay community.  We are overwhelmingly white and reasonably well-off, and our movement is almost exclusively about rights for ourselves and people like us. 

The recent debate over the exclusion of persons of transgendered experience from Employment Non-Discrimination Act sadly makes my point.  What does it say about us that Barney Frank, with the full support, it might add, of Nancy Pelosi, could so easily drop transgendered people from the ENDA bill that just passed the US House of Representatives?  Well, if nothing else, it clearly says that no matter how much trans folk have fought side by side in the trenches with gay men and lesbians, we still don’t fully claim them as our own.  Trans people are “other”, and as other, are expendable.

It was somewhat gratifying to see the number of LGBT groups who came out in opposition to this horrible betrayal.  But, as it turns out, the largest of our organizations, the one to which we contribute as a community by far the largest dollars, , the Human Rights Campaign Fund, had been secretly pressing for this action all awhile, having only recently been shamed into trans inclusion in the first place.

By the way, speaking of Nancy Pelosi, can anyone hear explain to me how we could let her add $28 million to the Federal government’s existing annual $176 million in funding for abstinence only education without us raising a howl of protest? Pelosi’s justification was that $28 million was a small price to pay for getting other progressive funding passed.  But that’s a crock, and a dangerous one at that.  Not only does abstinence until marriage not work, but it is homophobic to its core, perpetuating among the children it claims to serve the myth that sexually transgressive people are morally degenerate.  Even more, federal grants for abstinence-only-education fund the infrastructure of a right-wing movement dedicated to our destruction.  But a Democratic Speaker, representing one of the most progressive districts in Congress, supports funding these organizations to the tune of over $200 million a year.

In a letter published in the current issue of The Advocate about the debate over trans inclusion in ENDA, a reader wrote, “As a gay man, I am tired of being told what I should think and what I should feel just because I am attracted to other men.  At a gay synagogue in

New York City

recently, a straight guest speaker actually said, ‘Because you are all gay, I know you will be able to empathize with the plight of Mexican immigrants and their fight for equality.’  This kind of knee-jerk stupidity has got to stop, and assuming that because I am gay, I not only relate to but actually understand and care about transgender issues is no different.”

I don’t believe it is just a coincidence that the larger gay and lesbian community walked of the battlefield when AIDS clearly became a Black disease.  It was no longer us who was perceived to be dying.  It was “other”, and other is always dispensable.  Our use of the term “men who have sex with men” and the “down low” serve only to increase the distance.  “They” don’t claim us, so we don’t have to claim them.  But imagine how different the world would be if people like Harvey Milk hadn’t stood up for people like me when I was a young person growing up in south Texas, still lacking the courage to call myself gay.

It’s not just Black gay and bisexual men and trans people that we walk away from when we walk away from AIDS.  We’ve also walked away from many gay white men too marginalized to make it into the life boat, and we have walked away from women and girls, mainly Black women and girls, and folk generally marginalized by the larger society in which we live.  The truth is, that when our community turns its back on AIDS, we turn our back on the very idea of civil rights and social and economic justice being our cause.

I need to be clear that I am not picking on Equality Alabama, and I appreciate well that at the time of that conference to which I referred, they were fighting a loosing battle against a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.  The deprioritization of AIDS has taken place among gay organizations all over this country over the last decade.  I also want to be clear that I want the right to marriage as much as the next person….and I want all of the other rights that have been denied persons of LGBT experience for so long.  But if what we are truly engaged in is a struggle for social and economic justice, it can’t just be about my rights.

We in the organized LGBT community are often incredulous that so many African Americans can distinguish their historical struggle for civil rights from our own.  Yet, we fail to see the devastation being wrought among African American men who have sex with men in DC, or Brooklyn or Jackson, Mississippi, for that matter, as intrinsic to us, much less to see the connection between our struggle and that of people living with HIV and AIDS around the globe. 

The reality of AIDS is that it is caused by a virus; but that virus would not have created the pandemic that now exists if it were not fueled by homophobia, racism, and sexism.  AIDS is a disease that persists as a consequence of economic and social marginalization and discrimination.  Whether it was gay men and then Haitians in the 80’s, or sex workers and people addicted to injection drugs today, AIDS has been able to wreck its havoc because it has in the main taken the lives of people deemed expendable.  And that is why AIDS continues to be the preeminent civil rights issue of our day, whether we want to own it or not. 

Even before I had the courage to publicly declare my sexual orientation, I knew to be grateful that God had made me gay. Being gay, I knew early on, went way beyond just being sexually attracted to men. The otherness of my sexual orientation propelled me out of the small-minded fundamentalist community into which I had been born.  Being gay forced me to make my own way, to think for myself instead of accepting the given truths with which I had been raised. 

Being sexually transgressive made transgendered people my brothers and sisters even without my understanding all of the complexities of gender identity.  Being gay required that I understand that sexism persists as the root cause of homophobia… And it didn’t take being sero-postive for me to realize some 24 years ago that the first person I knew personally to die from the virus, an African American female sex-worker in New Haven, Connecticut, died for me. 

Whether we in the gay community like it our not, AIDS is still our disease.  It is ours because the many faces of AIDS, whether gay or straight, male or female, living in Haiti or South Africa, Puerto Rico or Washington, D.C., represent our struggle to survive and live our lives whole.

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