Letters to the Editor

Published in: March-April 2009 issue.


Another Challenge to GLAAD’s Primacy

To the Editor:

I think it worth letting your readers know that the history of glaad’s involvement with educating The New York Times on GLBT issues predates by a decade Joan Garry’s account of the 1997 campaign to get the Times to include same-sex couples in its wedding pages.

In summer 1986, I returned from a half-year in Paris where I was trying to live the life of a freelance writer–expatriate. Having fallen short of funds, I returned to New York and quickly became involved in the newly formed glaad, eventually becoming its first Executive Administrator, a high-flown title for simply managing the office. The office itself in this early incarnation was situated in the first floor of a genteelly worn townhouse apartment in Brooklyn Heights donated by a woman who, I believe, saw our tenancy as a statement of her progressive politics and a mother’s love for her gay son.

It is disheartening to see that Joan Garry makes no mention of those who most contributed to the organization’s conception and organization. They are simply characterized as “the founders of glaad.” These included Gregory Kolovakos, Arnie Kantrowitz, and Darrell Yates Rist. Of the women on the founding board, I most clearly remember Marcia Pally. Even this, I am afraid to say, is an incomplete list drawn from my imperfect memory, and I apologize for the many omissions. However, as an eyewitness to board proceedings, I can say with certainty that it was a disputatious group, and, like other GLBT organizations in the early days, sometimes riven by outsize egos and personal agendas. I was grateful, at least, that as a mere administrator I did not have a vote on the board.

Nevertheless, among the organization’s earliest successful campaigns, spearheaded by board member and lawyer Evan Wolfson (now a key proponent for marriage equality), was placing a full-page ad in the Times signed by lawyers and legal scholars from around the country objecting to the Supreme Court’s Bowers v. Hardwick decision. The cost of such an ad was significant, and paid for by donations from signatories and others. This alone must have gotten the newspaper’s attention.

But some time in late 1986 or early 1987, I and two board members—Charles “Chuck” Edwards and Michael Hunt Stolbach—met with a wide range of the editorial department heads of the Times at its headquarters. Among those in attendance was Abe Rosenthal, who had, if I remember correctly, left his post as head of the paper’s editorial board relatively recently. The three of us from glaad presented a case that the Times was being linguistically obtuse in not using the word “gay” to describe homosexuals or the gay movement. I have no written account of what was said, but I have a distinct recollection of our being accorded a respectful hearing. Whatever Michael Stolbach or I may have argued (I can well imagine us playing good cop/bad cop, but I won’t say which was which), I remember thinking that Chuck Edwards made the most astute presentation. He had taken an article from the Times dealing with some gay issue of the moment and had inked over uses of the word “homosexual.” The newsprint cutting he held in front of the Times editors was thick with dark blue rectangles.

Chuck’s point was simple: a good journalist uses a variety of words at his/her command to keep an article lively and to avoid repetition. By insisting on the clinical “homosexual” and always avoiding the contemporary usage “gay,” the Times was revealing its prose regulations to be socially moribund and, more importantly, stylistically dull. (I’m sorry to say that I don’t believe any arguments were put forward for inclusion of the word “lesbian,” probably on the theory that “gay” was an umbrella term. And we weren’t yet up to the notion of retrieving the word “queer.”)

Although we weren’t given immediate assurances of style changes at the Times, I remember seeing sheepish smiles on the faces of some editors—as if they knew they were caught dead to rights. We were politely invited to keep in touch with department editors as we felt necessary. I do not think Mr. Rosenthal was especially happy. My memory is shaky here, but I’m almost certain that within months the Times began allowing the term “gay” as an additional and accepted usage to substitute for “homosexual” some of the time. The paper of record had taken a small but, I would argue, momentous step.

Allen Ellenzweig, New York


The Redemption of Holy Redeemer

To the Editor:

Please accept my congratulations on the 15th anniversary issue of the G&LR [Jan.-Feb. 2009]. It was particularly appealing to me for two reasons.

My first exposure to gay literature was on the bookrack of my father’s small Midwestern drugstore in the 1950’s. It was there that I discovered many of the books that Michael Bronski mentioned in “Gay Wasn’t So Grim in 1940’s Fiction.” My initial curiosity was sparked by Giovanni’s Room, Finistere, and The City and the Pillar, each of which I currently own in the 39-cent editions that were available at that time.

Timothy Stewart-Winter’s “The Castro: Origins to the Age of Milk” reveals one aspect of the history with a happier ending that he doesn’t mention. What was once a bastion of anti-gay hostility, Most Holy Redeemer Church, has changed dramatically. In the 1980’s, the parish was on its last legs. The older Irish-Italian families that had settled there were dying out and their children had decamped to the suburbs or elsewhere. What was left was a shell of a parish with no life and few active members. A newly assigned pastor and his associate, a Sister of Mercy, started to notice that many young men were dying of what was then known as the “gay cancer.” They rightly assumed that more than a few of these men had been raised Catholic, and they started an outreach within the immediate neighborhood to anyone who was dying. It didn’t take too long for the priest to start to see an influx of mostly younger gay men and a few lesbians, as well as a revitalization of the parish around the ministries to the dying and the larger GLBT communities. The Archbishop of San Francisco at the time had the common sense to provide pastors who were open to GLBT parish membership as well as whatever it took to keep the place alive and well.

A quarter of a century later, the parish remains vibrant, well-attended, and has a strongly active core membership of 400 gays, lesbians, and straights, who focus on, among other things, feeding the homeless, sponsoring an AIDS orphanage in Africa, and running a fully functioning AIDS Support Group that has existed for twenty years. What was a bastion of anti-gay sentiment has turned into a GLBT-welcoming presence in the Castro.

An excellent history of this parish and how it changed for the better in the face of near-death was recently published in the book, Gays and Grays: The Story of the Gay Community at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church,” by Donal Godfrey, SJ; and a good view of how MHR functions today can be seen on the Web at www.mhr.org. Thank you,

Jim McCrea, Piedmont, CA


When Martin and Lyon Were Wed

To the Editor:

GLR’s Del Martin obit [Jan.-Feb. 2009] erroneously claims that she and Lyon married legally in “early 2008.” Actually, the timing was dramatically tighter. A long-awaited California Supreme Court decision was handed down in May, 2008, their historic wedding occurred in June, and Del died in August. Had she been clinging to life until she could legally wed? Did she relax and let go after this final achievement? This brief marriage season, which ended in early November 2008, has been called California’s Second Summer of Love.

California Aphroditic Liberty League (CALL)


Author’s Clarification:

Thank you for your interest in my obituary of Del Martin and of course you are correct that her marriage to Phyllis Lyon took place closer to her death than I stated. According to her obituary in The New York Times, they were first married in February, 2004, by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who challenged California’s marriage laws by announcing that the city would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples who requested them. The California Supreme Court invalidated the licenses a few months later. In 2008, Mayor Newsom invited the couple to be the first to marry under the new ruling.

Martha E. Stone


Time to Shift to a National Strategy!

To the Editor,

This is in reply to the many laments about the passage of Proposition 8 in California last November (Jan.-Feb. 09 issue). After 31 electoral defeats & 45 states banning same-sex marriage—and now that there’s a Democrat in the White House—we need to shift our focus from the states to the federal government. President Obama favors marriage equivalence if not full marriage equality (although he once supported the latter), and he strongly supports the repeal of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, along with legislation that would extend all federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples in “legally-recognized unions.”

At present, eleven states and Washington, DC, allow either full marriage (Massachusetts and Connecticut) or some form of civil union. If Congress words this legislation correctly, this may mean those living in the other 39 states could travel to Massachusetts to get married, to Vermont for a civil union, or to California for domestic partnerships, and have all federal marriage rights even if their home state does not grant them state marriage rights.

There are two catches. First, the federal government will not call these marital rights “marriage.” They will simply recognize whatever your state calls them. Second, we need to work our butts off to help Obama fulfill this promise.

President Obama can only sign what Congress passes. Historically, we have lobbied legislative bodies with great success. Prior to the marriage lawsuits that brought a tsunami of reactionary electoral defeats, we had a successful strategy. We passed hundreds of domestic partnership and civil union policies by lobbying legislative bodies, none of which has ever been directly reversed.

Equality California wants to repeal Prop 8 on the 2010 ballot. Is this the best use of our time, money and energy when our new president has a federal mandate for change? No! The bulk of our effort needs to be in Washington and not any individual state. Barack Obama has thrown our community a lifeline in our hour of need. I hope we have the good sense to grab for it.

Leland Traiman, Heflin, CA