Recently in Queer Category

It was conceived as an important visual document, accessible to the public and to institutions, which would describe the faces of a community and a moment whose memory is already fading from our consciousness.

The Kickstarter for the project needs a real boost as it winds down now, with less than three days to go. If the book doesn't get published, I think it will be a genuine loss for activism today.

Of course if it does get published, it won't mean a cure for AIDS. Also, to be sure, "The AIDS activist project: A new book of portraits of AIDS activists from around the globe" is not a vanity project for the artist, Bill Bytsura, or for those members of the historical ACT UP whose beautiful portraits will be a part of it.

Its importance is greater than the authors of the project or the subjects included in the book.

Pictures are important for understanding a past and inspiring a future, but pictures assembled in a context are still more important, and take on a life of their own. ACT UP was a movement which exploded in the late 80s, and burgeoned through half of the next decade, responding creatively, and often heroically, to a life and death crisis which was being ignored by an establishment which appeared to be unmovable.

Its people and the community they formed, along with the AIDS crisis which galvanized them, may be ancient history to a generation struggling today worldwide with an indifference among the powerful arguably even broader in scale - if, perhaps, less deadly. There is much to be gained today from looking at the devices employed, their successes - along with their failures, by a movement which flourished twenty and more years back. There's also the courage and nobility of so many of its members, and the anger and the love which was always a part of the movement.

Bytsura's book would give a face to an entire generation of activists (although in fact people of all ages were included in its membership), and it could serve an entire new generation as both muster to resistance, and powerful inspiration for effective resistance. Please help to breathe life into it, and consider contributing to its publication.

Full disclosure: Billy has been a friend since the days of ACT UP at it peak, and Barry and I have several of his beautiful non-activist photographs in our collection. There is also this portrait of a very young me, at 50, in 1990.

but the shame of sentencing the man to prison, and it endures today

Henry Cowell at the Forest Theater, Carmel, 1913 (we were all once very young)

Henry Cowell, born in the last years of the 19h century, was a brilliant composer, one of the wildest, most original of the 20th century, and his work remains radical today in the 21st. He was also a magnificent pianist, in great demand all over the world while still in his 20s. Two months after his 40th birthday he was arrested in his Menlo Park home on a 'morals' charge, and two months after that he began a 15-year term in San Quentin prison. He was paroled after four, and pardoned two years after that.

Joel Sachs' short 2013 account of Cowell's public martyrdom is essential reading on the subject. The year before Sachs had published a major study of the composer, musician and theorist: "Henry Cowell: A Man Made of Music".

I have not read the book. As someone very much on the outside of musical theory, even outside of musical practice, I'm not likely to, and yet, as a fan and as a queer, I feel very connected to Cowell's story.

I was born the year Cowell's family, friends and many major composers and musicians were finally able to persuade the California authorities to release him early. Unfortunately, for the rest of us the nightmare was still not over. I remember very well the era of entrapment, prison, and violence that continued for another generation, and beyond. Brutal laws and brutish attitudes warped the personalities, aspirations, careers, dreams and loves of millions, when they did not actually physically cripple or murder the victims. I was lucky to have escaped physically, but there was serious internal scarring. Some of my friends were less fortunate.

Sadly, the hatred and the violence continues all over the world, and it has not disappeared in the U.S.

Note: I published this post after hearing a piece by Cowell this morning on the excellent internet station, Counterstream Radio. "Atlantis" was composed for dance; it includes a small ensemble and three singers moaning wordlessly in sexually explicit ways. The mission and the operations of both Counterstream and its parent, New Music USA, are described by their names. Cowell's music lives today; it's still going against the stream and it's still new.

[image from OUPblog]


Over the years I've made my take on the campaign to allow gays in uniform (or on the wedding cake) pretty clear, arguing that a truly progressive Queer rights movement has been highjacked by the most conservative of agendas. When DADT was finally dumped, I had hoped we could all finally stop talking about it and move on to more serious stuff, but the recent online fuss over the prosecution of its poster boy Dan Choi has again brought gay warriors out of the woodwork.

Yesterday my friend Bill Dobbs sent around an email with some reflections on the historical frenzy over DADT, and its continuing fallout today. Dobbs is always worth listening to, and I have his permission to print his letter in its entirety here:

When I heard people had chained themselves to the White House fence I figured a powerful protest was afoot. Turns out it was the same-sexer pro-war crowd who wanted to be part of the US military, Lt. Dan Choi et al. For his participation in the protest Choi faced federal charges and opted to go to trial. The link at the end of this post will tell you more about that.

Choi was just a part of a much larger, successful campaign to overturn Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) which means anti-gay discrimination against those serving in the military is coming to an end. It is also an example of a gay agenda item helping to damage progressive organizing and ideals. The campaign invoked patriotic themes, the "takeaway" from that effort is -- war is no big deal, signing up for the military is now a fine choice for youth, sexual minority and otherwise. Military recruiters and training programs are now back on campuses.

That the anti-war and gay movements walked arm and arm together for some decades is lost down the rabbit hole of history. The advancement of "equality" in the narrow gay sense means self-identified same-sexers can operate drones, blowing people to smithereens in service of the world's lone superpower.

The gay agenda and all those sillyass equal signs should NOT be confused with progress. That's a message that straight people in particular need to absorb; those organizing for peace stood mostly mute during the DADT-repeal effort.

And watch out for the mantra of "diversity" - the Pentagon has long been one of the most diverse workplaces in the country. The US military, of course, is far more than a workplace. There's the slight matter of war but that point got lost in the narrow discussions about DADT.

-Bill Dobbs

[the link Dobbs refers to above is Thursday's Washington Post story on Dan Choi's conviction]

[image from Against Equality ("queer challenges to the politics of inclusion")]

adding them up

Today marks the end of a full decade for this blog.

As I have been more than a little slow in posting over the past year (probably from having discovered more of the outside world - and of course Twitter), I felt I didn't deserve a real number on this anniversary; instead of a 10 I've gone for three numbers which add up to 10.

I can't predict what, or how much, will show up in the blog over the next year, but It's not going away. In the meantime this is a brief description of its history, in pretty much the same words I used a year ago:

The blog began when, finding myself totally frustrated with the idiocy and brutishness of my country's response to the events of September 11 and feeling almost totally isolated in my disgust, I started sending a series of emails to people I knew well, sharing my thoughts and my anger. A few months later I started, intending it to be a more structured - and more widely broadcast - form for the kinds of unelicited rants with which I had been testing the patience of my friends. It was also intended to include ruminations on subjects in which I thought others might share my interest.

Almost from the start there were entries on politics, the arts, queerdom, history, New York and the world, and within a year they began to be accompanied by images and photographs. Many of the latter have been my own.

April 27 is another anniversary for me, much more precious and infinitely more important than the launch of this modest little blog: I met Barry, my perfect partner in everything (and Wunderkind webmaster) exactly twenty one-years ago today.

[the image is that of the modernist numbers above one of the entrances of the building two doors down from us, a very sturdy structure which incidentally houses the National Office of the American Communist Party USA]

Galileo Galilei's 1633 recantation: Science did not wait 350 years for the Church's halfhearted apology, and women and queers aren't waiting now

I received a letter today from Robert Niehoff, S.J., the president of John Carroll University, a small Midwestern Jesuit liberal arts university where I matriculated in 1958. The letter was addressed to the university community at large, and I soon learned that it was apparently a response to a February letter written to Niehoff, in his official capacity, by a number of faculty members (approximately a quarter of the total) who were concerned about the Catholic Church's intransigence over the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010.

I'm not Greg Smith (I've had no connection to my own addressee in 50 years) and John Carroll University is not Goldman Sachs (for starters the school is presumably a not-for-profit institution), so the letter I wrote in response, copied below, will not have much impact on anything. I still want to broadcast it however, because I believe the subject itself is important.

Dear Father Niehoff,

The position of most of the contemporary American Catholic hierarchy on the issue of contraception (an issue which, by the way, I am certain you are aware was virtually unknown in previous ages both more and less benighted than our own), is one which has been manufactured by late-20th-century Catholics and other absurd fundamentalist cults--in an unworthy, nay, disgusting, collusion with opportunistic political neanderthals.

Beyond all reason and, yes, beyond all issues of genuine morality, it is an offensive which, with the possible exception of the Church's virulent campaign against the rights, dignity, and physical survival of hundreds of millions of homosexuals (I count myself within their number), has been singularly, aggressively and continuously prescribed and launched against both its own members and, most grievously, all of those who do not recognize its domain or its primitive postulates.

It is just one of the reasons I have been unable to have anything to do with my undergraduate college for the past half century.

James Wagner
Class of 1962

Niehoff's letter, to which the above text was a response, is reproduced below. The still earlier JCU faculty letter can be read here.

To: The John Carroll Community
From: Robert L. Niehoff, S.J.
Date: March 16, 2012
Re: Religious Liberty and Public Policy

By now I am sure you are aware of the public policy issues surrounding the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010 and the controversy these new regulations have caused related to Church teachings.

As part of a broad effort to increase access to healthcare for all Americans, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new set of norms for health insurance provided by all employers--including the nearly 250 Catholic colleges and universities like John Carroll. In particular, HHS generated significant attention by mandating contraceptive coverage for all health plans, which many in the Catholic community regard as disrespectful of its teachings and as an infringement on religious liberty.

On February 10, an "accommodation" was announced by the White House stating that institutions like ours would not be required to pay for this new coverage--however, insurers would have to make it available (at no cost) for those within our health care plans.

I want to reaffirm what I have stated publicly, that "our values are important to us, and our religious freedoms are fundamental to our mission at John Carroll University." Further, I have stated that "we share the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' concerns about religious liberty and church teachings, and we will continue to work with them and with other Catholic colleges and organizations toward a constructive outcome with the Department of Health and Human Services."

In the midst of our national debates about public policy and values, there are two key points that I ask all of us keep in mind:

1) The need for civil discourse, which at its core is a respect for those with whom we disagree, is essential to who we are as an institution and our Catholic and Jesuit character.

There are many tensions surrounding this issue. I understand the strong feelings that many have for this particular subject. Let me make it clear that our University must be a place where this issue--like any other--can be discussed in an environment of mutual respect.

2) The public policy situation is far from being resolved.

I am engaged in this national dialogue together with the leadership and members of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU). I continue to stay in touch with Bishop Lennon concerning the conversations between those institutions, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The issues related to the HHS mandate are significant and it is unclear that the mandate can survive the legal challenges, which have already begun. At this time when our nation is engaged in a very politicized election period, this issue--among others--will receive considerable attention. It will be the center of much debate, and various points of view will be presented.

Again, I encourage all to remember that our University is at its best when we engage in a respectful dialogue.

[image from the University of Chicago Press]

surely we can hold ourselves to a higher justice than that which condemned them

The Six core members of Die Weisse Rose (The White Rose), a non-violent resistance group in Nazi Germany, were arrested by the Gestapo, tried and executed in 1943. Some of the male members had been activated for military service and been witness to atrocities, both on the battlefield itself and against civilian populations. The group had become known over the eight months prior to the arrests for an anonymous leaflet campaign describing what the government was doing and calling for resistance. The text of their sixth and final leaflet was smuggled out of the country and copies of it were dropped over Germany by Allied planes.

Today the members of the White Rose and others who opposed the Nazi regime, including those inside the government and the military who revealed the plans of the Nazis to other governments both before and after the war began, are honored as some of Germany's greatest heroes. They acted from conscience and spoke truth to power; almost all of them paid for it with their lives.

Pfc Bradley Manning is their heir. Having learned about government and military lies, official war crimes, and having even been asked to contribute to them, he could not claim ignorance, or deny his moral responsibility to expose and to put an end to the hypocrisy and the atrocities.

Manning is the real thing.

Manning is a hero, not merely for what he did, which is only what morality and codes both command, but because doing it is still today an exceptional act for anyone within government or the military. He is also a hero because he is being punished horribly for doing it - by the real criminals themselves. Finally, and perhaps most discouragingly, he is a hero because, although he has not been tried or convicted of any crime, most Americans seem to believe he is a traitor, or much worse.

The shy young army private did precisely what all members of the armed forces are supposed to do, and have been instructed to do, at least since the 1946-1947 Nuremberg Trials. Those processes established that the traditional military defense of just following orders, the "Superior Orders" plea, isn't enough to escape punishment.

These trials established the "Nuremberg principles," which provided the basis for all subsequent prosecutions, anywhere in the world, for crimes against the peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. They continue to stand even if most Americans do not believe this sort of thing could apply to them. They are encouraged in maintaining this perverted self-deception by their most exalted leaders: When he was asked about the possible prosecutions for American torture practices, our current President says he's "a strong believer that it's important to look forward and not backwards."

In fact, most of us share directly in the guilt for American crimes at home and abroad. We've been waging wars on the other side of the planet - shamefully - for almost ten years. My partner Barry ended a 2007 post on American electoral politics: "Americans didn't exactly reject the Bush administration in 2004, when we had all seen the images of Abu Ghraib, and knew that they had no legitimate evidence of Iraqi WMDs. When Americans . . . say the people of countries like Germany under the Nazis were guilty, what does that say about us?"

Any individual or group choosing to describe and oppose criminal U.S. policy on ethical or moral grounds is without honor in this country today, this in the nation which was so instrumental in destroying Nazism and creating the document which set guidelines for determining what constitutes a war crime. Manning's experience confirms this.

The most salient muckraker in the country today is now the least visible to his fellow citizens.

Manning remains locked in solitary confinement, ten months after being arrested for allegedly passing a mountain of digital "U.S. secrets" to WikiLeaks. He awaits his kangaroo court. Meanwhile, inside the Marine brig he is subject to no-touch-torture regimens which include being stripped naked each night and forced in the morning to stand outside his cell naked for "inspection." After the revelations about American prisoner treatment over the last ten years, I think we know what that's all about.

Meanwhile the real criminals, inside government, corporations, or the military, are free to continue the practices which were the subject of Manning's whistle-blowing (no 5 am naked inspections for them). Those at the top have flourished and become rich, but those who would point out their crimes are ignored, punished, or imprisoned (and in at least one extraordinary case, fired for speaking out).

Ours may be the least responsible government in the West. Its elected (a generous adjective) officials do not pursue even in the most general terms the policies which the voters enjoin on them, and the mainstream media doesn't cry foul. It's the height of idiocy for citizens of a modern republic to believe in the first place that they could trust the paid officers of an unrepresentative and irresponsive oligarchy to know what is best for them, but to permit them to properly administer the affairs of the citizenry in secrecy is more dangerous still. The secrets, in any event, belong to the people. Bradley Manning is the agent of their retrieval. He is our tribune.

We know that as a nation we've been bad, very bad; an impenetrable cocoon of silence at the top means that no one with any political power will admit it; but worst of all, too many "good Americans" also refuse to admit that we might be guilty of anything.

Surely we've never engaged in optional wars, tortured the state's "enemies," or killed incalculable numbers of innocents in the nations we've invaded. Nor have we enslaved many of our own people, or placed others in concentration camps solely on the basis of race, and we've never corrupted our own constitution or judicial systems in the name of "national security."

Or if we have done those things (we have, and we're still doing some of them today), maybe we stay silent because we didn't do them on a Nazi scale. Or maybe it's because we think our shit don't stink.

David House

David House is Manning's support team. He is a friend, and a computer scientist now a researcher at MIT, who visits him in jail twice a month, one of the very few people permitted to do so. On December 23, 2010, House appeared on MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan Show, guest-hosted by Jonathan Capehart, to describe his latest visit. I transcribed a section of his statement in a video shown on Firedoglake (FDL), specifically, Firedoglake TV:

After commenting that there are laws protecting whistel blowers in the United states, Capehart asked House, "Do you think Bradley Manning did anything wrong?" He replied: "If the allegations against Bradley Manning are true, I think he is an ethical giant of our generation. I think perhaps in this case America has judged him in the press much too quickly, and we should really reconsider why we keep alleged whistle blowers locked up in solitary confinement."

When he was asked if he holds Assange resposnsible for the situation in which Manning finds himself, House responded that he would have to have information about whether they had a relationship, adding that all information to that effect is coming out from one very unreliable source [Adrian Lamo]. "So I don't think that's something I could speculate on now." Capehart then suggested they talk about House's thoughts on what Assange has done with the information that he has released via WikiLeaks. House: "So I think that the underlying principles of the WikiLeaks organization are actually principles which are very much in line with most American ideals, the principles of open government, the principles of government transparency; so at least from an abstract, 30,000 foot perspective, I think the actions of WikiLeaks are very much in line with the principles of the American people.

I can't imagine a better spokesperson. House is awesome.

EXPOSING WAR CRIMES IS NOT A CRIME!, reads the banner on the home page of the Bradley Manning support site. There are demonstrations of support planned for Manning all over the world tomorrow, March 20. The site has information for all of them. The gathering in New York will be at 2 pm in Union Square. Clothing optional.

supporters of Army Pfc Bradley Manning at a rally at the State Department March 14th
(SF activist Logan Price, in the pink sign, writes on FDL about why he got naked)

APPENDIX I: Manning was, and still is, a very young man (only 21 when he first started transferring classified data into his personal computer). He was not a sophisticated undercover agent. It seems to me that he was in the place where he found himself, where he had incredible access to government documents, because he was smart and because he was a techie, in fact a computer geek. I also can't help noticing that, since Manning is gay (openly for I don't know how long), the army may have chosen neither to ask nor to tell; there just may not be enough straight men who answer that description and are also willing to serve their country, as Manning was when he enlisted (and is now more than ever, as we see). But all of that, including the impact upon Manning's story of DADT is the subject for another discussion altogether.

APPENDIX II: [This account of how Manning met House is taken from the Wikipedia entry for Manning] While he was at Fort Drum in New York, Manning regularly traveled to the Boston area to visit his then boyfriend, Tyler Watkins, who was studying neuroscience and psychology at Brandeis University. At Brandeis he "was introduced to Watkins's network of friends, and the university's hacker community, as well as its ideas about the importance of information being free. He visited the university's "hackerspace" workshop, and met David House, the computer scientist and MIT researcher who has been allowed to visit him in jail twice a month, the only person apart from his lawyer with permission to do so."

[first image from Wikipedia, the second from Jay Marx's Zimbio photostream]


Join the Navy and see yourself made a laughingstock. How's that unit cohesion thing work?

The captain of the USS Enterprise (not the starship), Owen Honors, has reportedly been temporarily relieved of his command because of the controversy over the stupid and raunchy videos he produced and broadcast to the ship in 2006 and 2007.

I don't know why this is happening only now, three and four years later; the offending videos had been seen by thousands on board while the carrier was on two six-month Middle East deployments. It may have something to do with the beginning of our finally disabling DADT, although the videos were arguably equally offensive to women, who are allowed in the navy - even if they're free to be asked and tell. In any event, Captain Honors will not be in command of the Enterprise and its compliment of nearly 6000 men and women (both het and homo) when it leaves for Afghanistan this month.

While looking online for images of queerdom in the Navy I came across this intriguing 1918 poster by queer artist Frank Xavier Leyendecker; he was doing his part for the war effort in the way he knew best, eroticizing the product with his illustrations.

I have a passion for history, and I just couldn't drop this image. I decided to use it as an excuse to give a tiny bit more context to the continuing nonsense coming from supporters of those who are still scared witless there might be homos in the military.

F.X. Leyendecker's brother, Joseph Christian, was an equally-skilled illustrator, and equally homo. I used one of his illustrations in a post I written two years back, also grumpy.

J.C. also admired the navy:


[top image from Joan Thewlis' photostream; image at bottom form bilerico]

what would David think?

Sunday's march up Museum Mile attracted around 400 to 500 people to the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt Museum to demand the return of David Wojnaroowicz's video, "A Fire in My Belly," to the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) exhibition, "Hide/Seek."

I've uploaded here a few images from my experience of the rally; they are arranged in chronological sequence.

Committed artists, writers, thinkers and other citizens demand that the Smithsonian, which controls the NPG, restore the work so the public can see the exhibition as the curators intended. G. Wayne Clough, the Secretary of the Smithsonian and the man who cowardly pulled the art from the show one month after it opened, must apologize to the entire country, and to the people of all the first, second and third world countries which should be able to expect of the United States something other than institutional and governmental censorship and the pandering to demagogues and the benighted.

The arbitrary suppression of words and images inconvenient to those who wield power cannot go unchallenged.

We attracted a lot of press coverage both before and after the protest. The issue and our demands have been broadcast to a lot of people, but even as I headed uptown on Sunday I was wondering if, in defending light and reason, we might also be helping the devil. Those thoughts disturbed me then and they still do.

It's like this: Bill Donohue is dumb, and although John Boehner and Eric Cantor may be little smarter, none of these hollow men is too dim to know that when they and other self-appointed censors and moralists pull these publicity stunts they only ensure that more people get to see what they think they shouldn't.

So while Donovan and the others make lots of money off of their bullying and intimidation, they and others drawn into encouraging and supporting this transparently-cynical chicanery continue to do so because of both the illusion and reality of power produced by the wide media attention it draws. What discourages me most is the thought that the more public the blowup today, the more successful the censorious attacks of the wacky Right may be tomorrow, intimidating future victims from doing anything which might offend the morality police. These rows may actually inhibit free speech and expression going forward, and we have already seen that the leaders of our institutions are spectacularly lacking in courage.

While I'd rather not dwell on these gloomy thoughts, unfortunately the National Portrait Gallery show remains expurgated as I write this, with no sign of any change. Of course the whole thing is ridiculous, but are the censors winning? We have to know what we are up against if we hope to defeat them.

Since the demonstration on Sunday I've come across two links which may help explain to those who first came across this old war story only this month: They describe the issues, relatively unchanged in over two decades, and their historical context.

James Romberger, David's collaborator, writes about his friend. And this 1990 video, showing the artist talking about the right-wing backlash against the NEA and arts funding, helps us to realize how much we lost when David's voice was silenced, in the end not by the bigots, but by AIDS.

A printed excerpt from the video, David speaking:

And the thing that makes me laugh is that in the last twenty years images and words that artists or writers make have had absolutely no power, given that we're essentially competing against media, you know, in order to create something that reverberates in those image or words. And the fact that, if at this point the images and words that can be made by an individual have such power to create this storm of controversy, isn't that great?

It means the control of information has a crack in its wall.

Recent national and international stories, involving an explosive challenge to the dominance of corporate and government news sources, suggest that the crack can be protected, and enlarged, only if we're willing to work at it.

Betsy Crowell and Louise Fishman on the steps of the Metropolitan

the picket forming on Fifth Avenue

Jonathan "Ned" Katz below the steps

our spanking-new ART+ banner

A-list establishment queers, plus one random journalist, checking out the scene

the picket about to head north

international sign

Jerry Saltz loving David

target Smithsonian, here its Cooper-Hewitt satellite

masks as epithets designating "the other" (black, red, yellow, queer, female. etc.)

on 91st Street, haranguing the Smithsonian

family of art ants outside the museum (Target is a major funder of the Smithsonian)

ADDENDUM: Philip Kennicott has a smart, even electrifying piece in the Washington post, "After removing video from 'Hide/Seek,' Smithsonian chief should remove himself".


I never thought we'd still be doing this 20 years on. The image above is of a thin stenciled sign I held up on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art August 1, 1989.

I thought of it as a work of art; I was thinking of both the sign and the afternoon.

I didn't make the sign. Along with a lot of others just like it, and any number of other images and texts, it was a small, elegant part of a powerful New York demonstration protesting the Corcoran Gallery of Art's cancellation of the D.C. exhibition of the show, "Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment" and the Helms Amendment. The amendment was designed to prohibit the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) funds from ever being used for so-called "obscene" or "indecent" materials, descriptions that at the time had repeatedly been applied to much of Mapplethorpe's art, and to that of Andres Serrano, who had also become a target in what was being called the American "culture wars."

While the artists attacked became more famous than ever, neither the NEA nor our other cultural institutions ever recovered from the assault on their artistic integrity and independence. I'm reluctant to employ the war metaphor (we're going off in every direction with real wars already), but I think most people would say that, whatever it is called, a fundamental culture struggle continues today: There are too many frightened people in this country, and too many anxious to profit from that fear.

Bill Donohue is a vile and disgusting little opportunist with a computer and a fan base which he regularly whips up to get them to send checks his way. A retrogressive darling of the crazy Right, he invents issues and targets which can attract enough visibility to provoke the fears and hatreds of ignorant older Catholics, allowing him to draw a very generous salary of some $400,000 a year. His primary targets are gays, jews, women, progressives of any kind, and all news media (excepting the just-pretend one, Fox).

While Donohue does not represent the Catholic Church, officially or otherwise, he operates within its comfort zone. He may be the crazy ranting uncle everyone would like to ignore, but the Church hierarchy has never disavowed anything he has said; and they all go to the same banquets.

I thought that the kind of primitive depravity he represents had been pretty much squished twenty years ago, but on the 1st of December, which was, whether incidentally or not, World AIDS Day, the head of the Smithsonian, institutional parent of the National Portrait Gallery, pulled the David Wojnarowicz video, "A Fire in My Belly." from the excellent NPG exhibition, "Hide/Seek," and apologized for its contents. The show had already been open for an entire month when complaints from Donohue's Catholic League, several Right-wing House Republicans, and Fox News [sic] resulted in its peremptory censorship, or debasement.

So we have a professional gay-bashing Catholic fanatic leaning on two fellow political and social fundamentalists, House Republicans John Boehner and Eric Cantor, to blackmail a great museum by threatening to cut its funding if it did not remove a work of art to which the Catholic nut objected. Viz. ants on a crucifix. We know it's not about ants: Donohue and his own coterie are unhappy about everything that has happened in the West since the suppression of the Spanish Inquisition. His Republican fellow-travelers may be in it for power, but their sympathies may actually be sincere, however warped.

I hate to do anything to give more visibility to Bill Donohue, or his Congressional altar boys, but this madness has now been covered by the media everywhere, and roundly condemned in as many places, and the Smithsonian has so far failed to reinstall the art it was so anxious to agree with the nasty little man was offensive.


A lot of people are going to be on Fifth Avenue this Sunday demanding that the Wojnarowicz video be returned to the National Portrait Gallery. We will be demonstrating as colorfully and dramatically as we can that we care about censorship and homophobia.

We have to be there, at one o'clock on the steps of the Met, Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street. And why the Met? Because it's the front porch of the art world, because there's plenty of space and a grandstand of sorts. From there the group will march up to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, which actually is a part of the Smithsonian.

The 1989 demo included the ACT UP group "Art Positive" (broadcasting a double meaning for the second word); the primary target then was homophobia and censorship. The 2010 demo will include members of the 1989 collaborative, and the entire demonstration has been designated "ART+" (only a slightly altered written form of the 1989 name); the primary target is essentially, and shockingly, the same, homophobia and censorship.

But since we're talking about the public treatment of work by an artist closely identified with a disease which as a nation we still haven't fully confronted, the subject of AIDS must not be left out of the discussion. Silence does equal death.

Finally, because we are dealing with people identifying themselves as representing the interests of the Catholic Church, we also have to understand that the targets of their assault necessarily include all women everywhere.


And there's more: America's continuing failure as a society to deal with what it thinks of as the very scary subjects of sex and art (and not only when they are combined, or ignited by the inclusion of AIDS) is inseparable from the ignorance and fear which prevents it from addressing our newest, and rapidly-mushrooming real problems.

In this country the public conversation always gets back to religion (if it ever leaves it in the first place). Organized and intensifying public religion gums up the works of virtualy every institution and increasingly ties our hands when we have to deal with impending national and planetary disasters. We may never grow up enough to understand the damage it has done and continues to do, but there's a slim hope that a larger percentage of the next generation will be able to think for itself.


For more information on the censorship outrage:

ART+ [the demonstration site]

Modern Art Notes [Tyler Green - one of many posts]

NEWSgrist [Joy Garnett - see many posts]

Diamanda Galás [Washington City Paper, Arts Desk]

[the second image is of a slightly-battered veteran ACT UP foamcore-mounted sign which spends its retirement leaning on a wall in our apartment, a constant reminder; the third photograph includes, in addition to the Sontag volume and an old ACT UP "Stop the Church" button, the cover of "Seven Miles a Second", a posthumously-completed graphic novel written by Wojnarowicz in collaboration with James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook, and a small globe turned toward Africa]

George Tooker Landscape with Figures 1965-1966 egg tempera on pressed wood 25.5" x 29.5"

we are alone . . . but we are not alone

Their nightmare began only two years ago, and no one can undue the psychological damage done to Clay Green and Harold Scull or return to the surviving spouse the home and virtually all the property and personal possessions the two men had shared for 20 years, but their injuries have finally been acknowledged.

Last Friday, just two days before his suit would have been opened in court, California's Sonoma County, agreed to a settle Greene's complaint out of court, for the amount of $653,000. Greene will retain $275,000, his lawyers will take $300,000*, and Scull's estate will be given the remainder. It was announced in the San Francisco Chronicle that the nursing home will pay $53,000, but it was not made clear where it will end up.

Greene's suit against Sonoma had claimed that his sexual orientation was the reason social workers had separated him and his dying partner and why the county had summarily sold off their belongings, including shared personal mementos.

Under the terms of the agreement Sonoma County did not admit it had discriminated against the two elderly men, but the county's lawyer, Gregory Spaulding admitted that there had been “procedural errors” in the disposal of the property.

The Sonoma County Press Democrat** reports that Spaulding said that the error had led to policy improvements at the Public Guardian's office regarding property disposition and case management, but that he had also spoken on the subject of the Harold and Clay's own status before the law:

He said the dispute might have been avoided if the men had been able to be legally married or if they had registered as domestic partners. Because they weren't, their funds were viewed as separate, he said.

“Marital status played a role in what options were available to them,” Spaulding said.

In my April post I pointed out that, while Harold and Clay may not, and today could not, have been married, they had been a couple for 25 years and ". . . had taken the precaution of naming each other both beneficiaries of their respective estates and agents for medical decisions, and the authorities still proceeded as if they had no personal or legal relationship."

Barry and I know any number of heterosexual couples as friends, and we occasionally ask them whether they have ever had to prove they were married. They inevitably answer no, that they are never asked to furnish copies of their marriage certificates. Some of them in fact had never actually married, and yet they have been able to take advantage of all of the perquisites which are attached to a state which is supposedly carefully circumscribed by law.

People like Harold and Clay - and Barry and James, our friends Jill and Gabriella and others, and millions of other couples around the world - don't even get to be asked.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco had represented Greene, and Amy Todd-Gher was his lawyer, so I'm wondering about this compensation figure.

I and a number of other bloggers had complained months ago that like most of the commercial media, the Sonoma County, New York Times-owned paper, the Press Democrat, had long refused to cover this story altogether. The paper has finally acquitted itself with its coverage of the settlement, but this excerpt from the paper's July 22 post however is a bit disingenuous:

The case grabbed national media attention with its shocking claims of abuse at the hands of those meant to protect the frail and vulnerable. Gay rights groups pummeled county officials with strident e-mail and some threatened a boycott on county tourism and wines.

Although the suit was filed in August 2009, it didn't become widely known until a report about it ran in April on the website of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

[image from eric reber]

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