On the eve of Gay Pride

By Berl Schwartz

The world seemed an odder place last week when Dick Cheney declared himself for gay marriage while President Obama fell short of doing so.

Appearing on “The View,” Cheney said gay marriage should still be up to the states but that people “ought to have a shot at it.”

Meanwhile, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Obama responded to NBC’s Brian Williams’ question about whether gays and lesbians who want to marry have a “friend” in the White House by saying they do because he favors a “whole host of legal rights” for them — short of marriage.

Our friend did declare June “Gay Pride Month,” and that’s dandy. But it’s not the sort of bold initiative I expect from this president. Maybe supporting civil unions is as far as he dares go politically, but what about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” truly an anachronism waiting to be disassembled?

Of course, it’s early yet in the Obama administration, but as I assess the 12 months since our last Pride celebration in Lansing, I have to give the president a “C.”

More locally, we are fortunate to have friends in both of the leading candidates for mayor of Lansing, incumbent Virg Bernero and At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood. The administration worked for the 2006 passage of a gay rights ordinance led by At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar (who is up for re-election this year). Wood, who voted for the ordinance, was the subject recently of a scurrilous rumor that she was not a friend. In fact, the opposite is true: She has been active in helping plan this year’s Gay Pride event, including clearing the way with the city for the traditional march to the Capitol, which construction at the Ottawa Power Station had threatened.

The mayor’s campaign made one miscue, though, when his surrogate at a fundraiser for Pride at the Radisson Hotel in May reminded us that Bernero’s brother died of AIDS. The mayor has spoken quite touchingly to gay audiences about his late gay brother. But its bullet-point use in brief remarks by the mayor’s spokeswoman seemed crass.

However, while HIV doesn’t define the gay community, it remains a serious concern. In two weeks, do a cover story on HIV Testing Day, a national event on June 27. Young gay men in mid-Michigan are not careful enough about protecting themselves. Syphilis and colon-related STDs are on the rise locally. The gay community needs to redouble its efforts to educate its gay children.

Another issue the gay community needs to address is the lawsuit against Bash Back, the self-described radical queer group that staged a protest both inside and outside the hopelessly hateful Mount Hope Church (the church with all the flags in front), sponsor of homophobic Halloween haunted houses. The sentiment in the gay community is that Bash Back went too far by going inside, but from what I can tell, the group did nothing illegal; maybe its methods offended sensibilities, but let’s not forget that this church is truly our enemy, and these young people may have been too zealous but were still fighting for a righteous cause. When and if Bash Back asks for support to fight the suit, let’s not turn our backs.

As for the future, one question will be whether the Pride celebration should be moved to Old Town next year, which might mean no march or Capitol rally because of the distance. Pride’s leaders need to listen carefully to all voices on this issue, since some consider the rally very significant.

Change isn’t bad, of course. This year Pride has reinvigorated Friday night festivities with a “white party” at four Old Town venues for the benefit of the Lansing Area AIDS Network. It replaces a Friday night comedy show that had become passé.

On a personal note, kudos to all the folks who’ve worked hard in the last few months to rescue the Pride celebration from financial difficulties, particularly Monique Goch and Darren Canejo, plus the crew at The Chrome Cat in Old Town, which hosted the organizing meetings.

I’m looking forward to the celebration. My partner, Paul Shore, and I had a book inscribed by David Sedaris a few days ago thusly: “To two cheerful homosexuals in Michigan,” and I know this weekend we will be.

(Berl Schwartz is editor and publisher of City Pulse. Write him at publisher@ lansingcitypulse.com.)