Wednesday, February 22, 2017

When We Rise

Book Review and Political Commentary
(Okay...it's really a book review, but the last election has made everything a political commentary. This piece first appeared as a column in the February 21, 2017 edition of Between The Lines).

I first read an advance copy of Cleve Jones’ memoir, When We Rise: My Life In The Movement early last fall. At the time our president was Barack Obama and we had every reason to believe that Hillary Clinton would be our next president. In that context my reaction to the book was that it was one of the best memoirs I’d read, and one of the best books of the year. Cleve Jones presents his life in an unvarnished manner. The purpose of the memoir was not self-aggrandizement, but rather to share one person’s story within the movement.


I note Jones’ use of the term “the movement”. When We Rise is not strictly about gay liberation (or the later more inclusive movement for LGBT rights). Cleve Jones sees, writes, and lives a collective movement of liberation. The women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the LGBT movement, the labor movement, and all other liberation movements are spoken of collectively as simply, “The Movement”.


Cleve Jones was at the epicenter of much of the modern post-stonewall gay liberation movement on the West Coast. He was friends with Gilbert Baker, creator of the rainbow flag. He was a protege of Harvey Milk, and was the person who first came upon Milk’s body after the assassination. He was the creator of the Names Project, aka the AIDS Quilt, the largest ongoing piece of community folk art in the world.


Jones tells us of the roots of his passion for the movement in the one-page preface. The movement saved his life. He tells of his childhood in Arizona. As early as the age of 14 he was marching for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. He worked for the women’s movement. And yet, it wasn’t until a Life magazine article on the Gay Liberation Movement that he saw his own life in the movement he had already identified and identified with. In typical fashion he undercuts the moment from too much altruism. He has a fascination for the pictures of “handsome long-haired young men marching with fists in the air through the streets of Greenwich Village, Los Angeles, and San Francisco” which accompanied the article.


He pinpoints this moment, after a childhood of not fitting in, as a turning point, “I am pretty sure this is the exact moment I stopped planning to kill myself”.


When We Rise is a powerful personal memoir and important piece of LGBT history. For that reason alone I thought of this book as an important addition to the literature.


I read it again after it’s publication in late November after the devastating election. In this new context I read the book as not only a great memoir, but as an important call to action. Jones lived intersectionality as a youth, but learned intersectionality from Harvey Milk. It is no accident that the title of the book is When WE Rise, not When I Rise.


Starting February 27th ABC is presenting a seven part series, When We Rise. The series was previewed two weeks ago by Chris Azzopardi’s interview with director Dustin Lance Black at http://www.pridesource.com/article.html?article=79995. The series is partially inspired by the book. It is not a retelling of only Cleve Jones’ story, but of many of the people who were a part of the gay and lesbian movement of the 60’s and 70’s. In that interview, Dustin Lance Black echoes many of the sentiments of the book. This response sums it up:


“The reason I designed this show the way I designed it was because four years ago, I was concerned that social justice movements were becoming incredibly myopic and self-interested, forgetting that we need to work together if we're gonna get anywhere. Not understanding the intersections of our movements, losing sight of where those intersections are, and certainly forgetting the great power that we can gain by working together. So, I was worried. We were becoming divided, and it's why I insisted when designing the show that I find real people who came from other movements, not just the LGBT movement - people who came from the women's movement, the black civil rights movement, the peace movement, and the series eventually touches on immigration and healthcare.”


In the aftermath of the election, and especially since the inauguration, we are seeing millions of people standing up for all the colors of the rainbow. Gay people are marching in support of Planned Parenthood. White people are standing up for #BlackLivesMatter. Christians are standing up for their Muslim brothers and sisters.

In order to get elected, the 45th President had to waken an ugly sleeping giant. In the process he also awakened men and women of good will who believe in the promise of America. Both the book and the series speak to these people, and put light on the good things which happen When We Rise.


Friday, December 9, 2016

In Search of Safe Spaces



My husband and I are the owners of the \aut\ BAR, a gay bar and cafe. We work hard to provide good food and drink. We strive to provide good, or even exceptional, customer service. In general we are pretty successful at achieving those goals. Any bar and cafe should strive to achieve these things. It’s how you survive. And we have survived for 30 years. So we must be doing something right.

But that is not our mission. First and foremost our mission is to provide a safe space for the LGBT community.

We live in a bubble called Ann Arbor. This is one of the most progressive cities in the country. We had the first openly gay elected official in the nation. Local ordinances protect us across the LGBT spectrum.

Across the country the last few years have brought acceptance of LGBT Americans in the armed forces. We have achieved Marriage Equality. We have openly gay members of congress.

Our mission was beginning to sound rather quaint.

I recently had a customer arrive directly from the hospital. He was hungry and came in for the good food and drink (see above). He had spent the day at the VA hospital, as he had been attacked the night before at a TGI Fridays by a Trump supporter. I am neither knocking nor endorsing TGI Fridays, just pointing out that "safe space for the LGBT Community" is not part of their mission statement.

One of the owners of another business in our little courtyard was attacked in front of her house. She was attacked because she still had her Hillary sign up. The rainbow flag was probably a further provocation. Rainbow flags are being destroyed and threatening notes are being left on cars and on front doors. We have been hearing reports across the country of similar incidents.

Suddenly the idea of a safe space doesn’t seem so quaint.

I often say we are a neighborhood bar, except that our neighborhood is demographic, not geographic. We try and build community and strengthen our political position: locally, statewide, and nationally. We are even a footnote in LGBT history for our response to the late Fred Phelps and the wackos from Westboro. We have fundraised and lobbied. We have marched and protested.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

That arc is not a smooth arc. Look at the gays who celebrated their great gay life during the Weimar Republic. Within a couple of years the Nazi party sent them to concentration camps. They went from cabarets to wearing the badge of the pink triangle. Many did not survive. Swastikas are showing up across this country. The white nationalist movement believes this election was a mandate…not a mandate for the business magnate Donald Trump, but for their white nationalist aspirations. People are afraid, and have good reason to be.

A day or two after the election I found myself in a small, cozy, and very warm room. I wondered if it would be possible to hibernate in that little space for, say, four years. Many of my friends report similar urges. Finding a safe space is a natural response to fear. Hiding in those safe spaces does not contribute to the Dr. King’s long moral arc. To quote Elie Wiesel, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”.

Action is required. We are all struggling to find positive ways to react. In these early days we are giving money to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and other groups who can help. We are calling Congress regarding appointments and issues. In the future we may have to put ourselves into more dangerous positions such as signing up for Muslim Registries in solidarity and other means of civil disobedience.

The Underground Railroad was resistance to the most brutal and de-humanizing American experience, human slavery. Over the long course of its existence between 25,000 and 100,000 people escaped slavery on the Underground Railroad.

The journey was composed of points of safe spaces connected by perilous journeys.

It is both a metaphor and a model for us to follow. We need to be ready to put ourselves on the line for the defense of civil liberties for all races, genders, religions, gender identities, and sexual orientations. That will mean perilous journeys. Support those organizations which will organize and fight: ACLU, Southern Poverty LawCenter, Equality Michigan, and Democracy for America.

We need our safe spaces more than ever. Support your local community centers (e.g., JTCC and Affirmations), Planned Parenthood, open and affirming churches, mosques, and temples, and your local LGBT businesses.

Here’s a very important point about the Underground Railroad…it could not exist without allies willing to risk everything. We need allies in our struggles. And we need to be allies to others. There are many of us who have suffered prejudice in the past: gays, lesbians, transgenders, queers, Muslims, women, African-Americans, Latinx, to name a few. Since the election the acts of prejudice have not just increased, they have transformed into something more openly hateful and violent.

When a woman wearing a hijab is being harassed we need to step forward and be an ally. When someone starts spouting racist crap publicly we need to be the first voice that says, “sit down and shut up”. And when some jerk dude starts telling a woman that we live in Trump’s America now, we need to let the jerk know that America belongs to all of us.


None of us can predict the future. But to ensure that Dr. King’s long moral arc is sustained we will need the courage to stand up for what is right, and to protect the security of our safe spaces.

Monday, November 7, 2016

2016 Election endorsements

Election Day is around the corner. Here are a few of my recommendations, endorsements, and thoughts:

Endorsement for President.

Hillary.

For me there is no alternative. If you are a Trump voter you clearly don't want to listen to reason or care about people who don't look like you, so you really don't care about my endorsement.

However, to Hillary supporters my point here is, get out the vote. Tell your friends to tell their friends to vote. We need a big turnout. We need to make this an embarrassing loss for a Republican party which has been nurturing racism, sexism, islamaphobia, and homophobia for decades. That sub-current of hate has given birth to a giant orange growth that needs to be excised.

And BTW, I am not a lesser-of-two-evils supporter. Hillary is supremely qualified.

I know there are still folks out there who are choosing to vote for Jill, or Gary, or even Evan. They believe that a Trump presidency might finally give rise to a more progressive Democratic Party. I would argue the opposite. In the past conservative victories has just made the party move MORE to the center (or right-center). If we win in a landslide, and polls show overwhelming support from the Bernie wing of the party, the Bernie wing gains power.

More important, an embarrassing loss for Trump (and down ballot) forces a redefinition of the Republican party. And it could be a major redefinition of the party. I think of history here...

When one party realigns, it does not only change that party. It fundamentally changes the other party. Andrew Jackson and the Whigs. William Jennings Bryan and the Democrats. LBJ and the Southern Strategy. If the Republican party looks like a permanent 39% party, it will change, morph, or die. The new Republican Party (or whatever rises out of it) will be fundamentally different. And so will the Democratic Party. Predicting exactly what that realignment will be is a fool's errand. But given the insurgency in both parties, my guess is that the new focus will be more about the two wings of populism: The progressive democrats and the tea party. The best chance for a progressive Democratic Party is the annihilation of the current Republican Party.

How is that for an odd endorsement?


Transit

Vote YES for Transit

Southeast Michigan is the only major metropolitan area without a regional transit plan. Let's change that on Tuesday. This could make a more profound difference in more lives than perhaps any single political race. This will bring a commuter train (finally) between Ann Arbor and Detroit. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes which will connect Detroit to the other counties. The RTA will coordinate fares and schedules over a variety of existing systems. This is big stuff.

http://www.rtamichigan.org/

If you don't know what BRT is, wikipedia does a good job explaining:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bus_rapid_transit


State of Michigan Supreme Court

If you follow me on Facebook you may have seen my series "Me and My Constitution". It's an ongoing series of pics with me and my pocket constitution in various locales and situations. That pocket constitution is an ACLU pocket constitution which I've had forever. All this is to say, I love the ACLU. Michael Steinberg has shared his picks for this. He has made it clear that these are his personal picks, not those of the ACLU. However, Michael's personal values align with his professional values, so I'm listening to the guy.

In short, Vote for Szymanski and Thomas (mnemonic, remember Star Trek). If you want to read his full endorsement, it is here:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B79heWfh1BSUeTVpS0NyXzg4VFU/view?usp=sharing


The Rest of the Judges

On my ballot, all of the rest of the judges are uncontested. This is a shame. Especially since one of them is the Dishonorable Archie Brown. Archie broke up LGBT families. I cannot vote for this man. I suggest you do not either. I am writing in Patti Smith. It won't count. Patti is not registered as a write-in. But it is my protest. I suggest you do the same. (I know I've been written in for this position at least once, already).


City Council and Mayor

I am in the Fifth Ward. I am strongly endorsing the incumbent Chuck Warpehoski. Chuck has fought for better transit. Chuck believes in affordable housing. Chuck believes in community. Chuck is an environmentalist. His "priorities" page spells out beautifully why I support this man:
http://voteforchuck.org/chucks-priorities/

Ward 5 is the only contested election for City Council or Mayor. So not that it matters, but my strong endorsements in other races are:

Mayor
Christopher Taylor

Ward 2
Kirk Westphal

Ward 3
Julie Grand.

Ward 4
Graydon Krapohl

If I lived in Ward 1 I'd do a protest write-in vote.

So why are there so few contested elections? Segue to..........


Ann Arbor Ballot Proposal: Increasing Term Length for Mayor & City Council

I'm voting "yes".

I have wrestled a bit with this one. In fact, this is now the third rewrite of this section of the blog. To see the full ballot proposal:
http://annarborvotes.org/ballot-proposals-ann-arbor

Kirk Westphal is interested in electoral reform in Ann Arbor Council and Mayoral elections. His first proposal would have made some significant changes. City Council rejected his original proposal by a vote of 7-4. This proposal is the leftovers. I believe the current proposal would be good in combination with other changes, most notably non-partisan elections. In this case, non-partisan simply means the top two vote-getters in the primary move on to the general election. If that happened we could have a robust political discussion.

The arguments for this change are that more people would be involved in the electoral process by eliminating the off-year elections. I am sympathetic to that argument. But it is not real reform. My main concern if this passes is that we will be left with nothing else. Any argument for further reform may be left behind with the argument that "we already did electoral reform". It will not be the end of the world if this does not pass, but my endorsement is that I will be reluctantly voting "yes" on this proposal. It's not real reform, but at least a step in the right direction.

Michigan Daily provided an excellent endorsement (and may have been the article which finally tipped me to my "yes" vote):
https://www.michigandaily.com/section/editorials/daily-extending-term-limits-favors-democracy


Library Board

Who cares about this? Well...there are actually eight candidates for four positions, making it one of the more contested parts of the ballot. There are two "slates" running. I'm not endorsing either slate. Rather I am endorsing two individuals, who are on different slates: Jaime Magiera and Linh Song. I respect both of these folks, and think they will bring great perspective to the board. I will probably just vote those two and leave the rest blank.


Ann Arbor Public Schools

Once again, I'm going with the best advice I can get. In this case, it is Trevor Staples. Trevor was the force behind one of Ann Arbor's most successful community projects, the Skatepark. He is also a teacher, and seems to be in pretty much exact alignment with my politics. And his endorsement is, "I'm half-assedly voting for Hunter, Harmony, Jeff. I won't consider voting for one of the incumbents after how they've treated teachers over the past few years."

Good enough for me


A few quickies (or this won't get out before the election)

Any House Race
Vote Dem. We have a chance to take back the State House. That would be enormous. In my case, this is voting for the amazing Yousef Rahbi

State Board of Education
John Austin
Ish Ahmed

Congress - 12th District
Debbie Dingell

Congress - 7th District
If you are lucky enough to live in the 7th District you MUST vote for Gretchen Driskell. A combination of an excellent democratic candidate and a true troglodyte republican incumbent.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Governments are not Businesses

Every day we get to suffer as we watch the political back-and-forth. During election season it just gets worse. In this week's version of the game...

Hillary stands in front of (the former) Trump Casino and criticizes Trump's bankruptcy, saying "he'll do the same thing to America"...i.e., default on debts and screw over the working class.

She's right, but in a way which is much more complicated than the simple optics of the campaign stop.

The Donald retorts that "This is what many elite businessmen do", suggesting that it shows how clever he is, and what a good businessman he is.

He's right, depending on how you define "good businessman". He clearly means the businessman who is able to acquire the most value for himself and his investors. Isn't that an irony? The working man's hero is the guy perfectly willing to screw the common man.

At its heart, this points to one of the biggest problems with a Trump candidacy (or heaven help us, presidency). Because here's the thing.....

Governments are not businesses. And anyone who thinks governments should be run like businesses has no place being a public servant. There are some practices which are of value to both:

  • Don't be wasteful. That's a value which has a place in the Pentagon and at Ford Motor Company.
  • Build employee loyalty/morale. It's always easier to keep an employee, than hire a new one. This is true whether you are in the Department of Education or Google, Inc.
  • Give great customer service. This is how you build brand loyalty whether you are Delta or Amtrak. (For irony's sake I was going to use Comcast as my example, but I didn't want to lose you here).

The difference is in what the GOAL of those practices are.

In the corporate world, the goal is to improve the bottom line. Your company may have great values and do great things for the community. In order to do that the company has to have a healthy bottom line.

In the world of government the reason is to not waste taxpayer money so that you can provide the services which a government is supposed to provide for its citizens.

We can argue about what constitutes the services a government provides. Does protecting our citizens include an invasion of Vietnam? Do we provide health care for everyone? Should we spend $400 billion on the F-35? These are all valid policy questions. But none of them are remotely like the policy questions of "running a business".

This is also a big reason why privatizing the valid responsibilities of government is always a bad idea. If your business is educating children you will probably have a nice mission statement about education. But your function is to make money. The mission and function are at odds. As a society we agree on the necessity of an educated populace. And while we want to do that in an economically responsible way, the point is not to make money. The point is to make educated children.

This is also why we should spend billions on infrastructure. Having a great infrastructure keeps our country economically (and yes, militarily) strong. When we spend money on good roads, businesses do better, citizens do better, and we have the added benefit of pumping money into the economy in a way which helps the middle class. We build roads, airports, train stations, bus rapid transit, locks, and levees for the greater good...not to enrich a specific company or person.

To bring it back to Mr. Trump, declaring bankruptcy to restructure debt may, indeed, make him a good businessman. But his ability to enrich himself and his investors has little-to-no relevance to the ability to run the the Executive Branch of the United States of America. In fact, it argues against him.

The refrain is a common one, "Hire me as your [governor, president, senator] because I know business, and we need a businessman running [this state, this country, this congress]". Here in Michigan we see what an abject failure that has been with Rick Snyder. His government-as-business have decimated social programs. His policies are destroying our schools and our infrastructure (just ask the residents of Flint).

Strip away Trump's business successes and you are left with a narcissist with no real understanding of our constitution. You are left with demagoguery of the worst form, playing on our weaknesses of racism, xeonphobia, and islamophobia. I want a leader who encourages what makes us strongest as a nation, celebrating our diversity, and welcoming the world's tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to be free.

By the way, for my blog on immigration: https://speakaut.blogspot.com/2008/08/my-dog-and-immigration.html

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Run, Bernie, Run!

Why should Bernie keep running? I can think of three good reasons. Perhaps you have others. He could still win the nomination. At this point it's a long shot. But stranger things have happened. The role of super delegates is a little wacky, and worthy of a post all by itself. Suffice it to say, the super delegates will not determine the outcome. If Bernie were to actually run the table in the latter half and overtake Hillary, be assured that there would be significant migration of super delegates. (Then why have them, you ask? Good question. Different post.) Bernie's presence keeps Hillary's message closer to the heart and soul of the democratic party A Bernie nomination is definitely a long shot. Even with Bernie victories, Hillary will keep picking up a share of delegates, and the math is looking bad for Bernie. There is lots of chatter for Bernie supporters to get in line with the nominee-apparent, Hillary. Stuff and nonsense. Even if it was beyond a long shot (and it may be in a few weeks) I'm happy to see the insurgent go all the way to the convention. I wish Howard Dean had done so in 2004. Howard dropped out as it became apparent that Kerry would be the nominee. He did so in the name of party unity. But it also meant that Kerry started triangulating early towards the general election. And his campaign started sounding downright republican. I was proud to be a Howard Dean delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2004. That meant I got to hear Obama's inspirational keynote address in person...the address which set him on the path to the presidency. Amidst that brilliant rhetoric, Kerry painted himself as a war hero. And he was a war hero. But more important, he came home from Vietnam and became an anti-war activist. The campaign downplayed that side of him. Kerry had true liberal credentials. He was the only senator up for reelection who voted against DOMA. But you didn't hear about that from the campaign. It is a road which Hillary could go down very easily. It would be a big mistake. Hillary's politics don't entirely align with mine. She is more hawkish than I am. Her past history with incarceration and the death penalty are definitely to the right of my views. She also has true liberal credentials. She has a long history of fighting for health care, women's rights, minority rights, children's health and safety, and more. If we are to win in November, we must win by staying true to our core values. In the words of Harry S Truman,
"Given the choice between a real republican and someone who acts like a republican, people will vote for the real republican all the time."
Even as the math becomes more and more difficult, stay in there fighting for your guy as long as he is fighting the good fight. As you fight that good fight, please do so in the manner of your candidate. Fight on the issues with civility. Though Bernie's rhetoric has gotten tougher, he still treats his opponent with respect. Hillary is not evil. Bernie has never called her evil. You shouldn't either. The "Evil Hillary" trope buys in to 25 years of right wing Hillary-bashing. The latest is a kinda clever Lord of the Rings bit (I've seen two versions of it) which paint Bernie as Frodo and Hillary as Saruman. It's clever and amusing, but ultimately its a false analogy. (Though I might be able to buy into the idea of Trump as Sauron). If you want an exhaustive breakdown of the analogy, check this out at Blue Virginia Blog. We need progressives at every level of government, from alderman to senator Bernie's political revolution is not going to happen from the top down. If we can keep the progressive fire aflame, perhaps we can change the political narrative. Bernie's political revolution includes regulating Wall Street and overturning Citizens United. That won't happen without a friendly congress. If a future President Clinton nominates....let's say...Barack Obama for the Supreme Court (I can dream) you KNOW that the current Senate won't confirm him. If a future President Sanders calls for legislation to break up the big banks, this Congress will send that bill to a committee to die. Bernie is succeeding in ways no one imagined ten months ago. Typically, candidates who count on expanding the voter base as a means to victory are disappointed by their enthusiastic base, many of whom never bother to vote. In caucus states, Michigan, and a handful of other primaries these folks have defied tradition and actually gone out to vote. Let's hope that it is the beginning of a lifelong habit for these new voters. We know they'll come out and vote if Bernie is the nominee, but what if its Hillary? For the sake of a progressive congress, and state houses which can reverse outrageous gerrymandering, let's hope so. Bernie supporters, you are dreamers. We need dreamers. Keep the dream alive. And please, dream with your eyes wide open.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Little Collective Wedding Memory



Happy Anniversary to my husband, Martin. I'll have to tell him that some other way, as he doesn't read my blog.

It is not just our wedding anniversary. Over 320 couples were married on this day, two years ago. , Judge Friedman opened a window of Marriage Equality in Michigan, thanks to the first big victory in the DeBoer v Snyder case. That window lasted a bit less than 24 hours. The DeBoer v Snyder case was combined with three others, went to the Supreme Court, and ultimately won Marriage Equality across the U.S.

There are lots of wedding pics being shared on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter today.

To many people, weddings are about big extravagant events planned for years.

The "planning" for ours (and I don't mean Martin and I...I use a very big collective "ours") goes back to Evan Wolfson's pioneering work on Freedom to Marry, and many years of activism, and many disappointments. It goes back to April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse fighting for their kids, and a community full of people supporting their fight. And it culminated in Judge Friedman issuing a judgement full of empathy for the humanity of our community and scathing to a government preventing us from recognizing our relationships.

These pictures have people in jeans and jackets, as we had to wait for the doors to open on a cool spring day. They are pictures from a conference room in a county building, as we all had to move quickly before another part of the judicial system would slam the door on us.
We were surrounded by friends...but rarely family. Sometimes it was because our families shun us. But even those of us who had supportive family could not get them here quickly enough, whether across the state, across the US, or even around the globe.

These pictures which are being posted are not traditional wedding pictures. There is no wedding photographer, only friends with cellphones. Our wedding flowers were brought to us by friends like Kristin Schrader who realized, "It's a wedding. People will need flowers", and handing them out to whoever needed them.

Instead of a big wedding reception with an open bar we had Kevin Sharp stand outside the county building with coffee, keeping people warm and awake (many of whom had been waiting in line since before sunrise). Kevin and (his now husband) Rusty did not have the appropriate papers available to get married that day, but shared the day anyway.

Our witnesses, official and otherwise, were a community full of people experiencing something they never thought they would have.

Our weddings on that day are not the stuff for Modern Bride Magazine. (Is there such a thing as Modern Groom Magazine?) But our weddings were the heart and soul of what weddings should always be all about. Love conquering all.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Hillary and Nancy


There are many folks who, like me, are going to vote for the democratic nominee for president. As for WHO that nominee should be...well...that's a long story. I believe both candidates have great attributes, and both have a few weaknesses they would have to contend with in a general election. I've been supporting Bernie since he entered the race. However, as the primary season moved to my state of Michigan, I wavered.

My Facebook wall was the home of an incredible, civil discourse on the merits of each candidate. I refused comments about why I should NOT vote for someone. I insisted on arguments to vote FOR one of the candidates. I encouraged people to share their passion.

And in the end, I voted for Hillary on Tuesday.

On Friday Hillary said something very stupid.

She praised Nancy Reagan's record on HIV/AIDS.

I've heard lots of explanations about this.

  • The idea that she was conflating AIDS with Alzheimer's just doesn't parse. Her commentary was clearly about HIV/AIDS, and substituting Alzheimer's makes no sense.
  • Apparently MSNBC had made a similar statement in their obit piece. They claimed that Nancy saw the light after her dear friend Rock Hudson died, and worked to get the administration to change its tune. Unfortunately this is just revisionist history, and hard to believe that Hillary would repeat it.
  • She was just trying to be nice to a fellow former first lady on the occasion of Nancy's funeral. While I personally could never say anything nice about Nancy, I understand this. But just leave it at her advocacy for stem cell research, and wasn't that new White House china beautiful.

I was pretty angry about this.

  • In 1981 Nancy Reagan's commentary on New York's Pride Parade was, "What do they have to be proud of? They should be ashamed."
  • In 1984, concerning AIDS, she wondered why there was all this fuss over a self-inflicted venereal disease.
  • Her "Just Say No" campaign flew in the face of everything we know...and knew...about addiction and public health. That alone probably cost thousands of lives.

No I have no love for Nancy. But I understand the need for diplomacy at a funeral. There's a lot that could have been said without causing so much anger and pain to those of us who were living the hell of caring for dying friends, watching them die horrible deaths, shunned by their families, their communities, their churches, their government, and sometimes even their doctors.

Hillary touched a very raw nerve.

I want to get past this, because she will probably be the democratic nominee. (Just stop Bernie Bros. I didn't say anything bad about Bernie. And if he proves me wrong, I'll be supporting him...again....see paragraph one). If she is the nominee, I have to feel good about that.

She apologized almost immediately. She apologized for misspeaking. That's about one step better than the I'm-sorry-you-misunderstood-me type of apology. And certainly better than no apology at all. Her statement was a short apology followed by a laundry list of all she has done for HIV/AIDS in the past, and all she will do in the future.

For me, it fell flat. Many people lauded her for apologizing. The message I kept hearing was "get over it" and "move on". This message was from Hillary supporters, most of whom did not live through the hell I lived through during the reign of Ron and Nancy. (Short sidebar here...My senior recital took place during that time. I commissioned a work by my friend David Colson which he titled "Ronnie's a Jerk, and so are you"). Hillary opened a wound and followed it with a self-serving apology which did nothing to acknowledge the pain her statement caused. You don't get over anger (or hurt...or grief) by being told to "get over it". The first step is acknowledging the pain.

Hillary put out a second apology on Saturday. This is how it starts:
Yesterday, at Nancy Reagan’s funeral, I said something inaccurate when speaking about the Reagans’ record on HIV and AIDS. Since then, I’ve heard from countless people who were devastated by the loss of friends and loved ones, and hurt and disappointed by what I said. As someone who has also lost friends and loved ones to AIDS, I understand why. I made a mistake, plain and simple.
I want to use this opportunity to talk not only about where we’ve come from, but where we must go in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
To be clear, the Reagans did not start a national conversation about HIV and AIDS. That distinction belongs to generations of brave lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, along with straight allies, who started not just a conversation but a movement that continues to this day.
It really is worth reading. It took her a day, but she got it right.

Apology number two was clearly more thoughtful. I'm sure it was run by all the top campaign staff. It may have been penned by someone else (Are Robby Mook's fingerprints on it?). But she did more than apologize. She acknowledged the pain she caused. And (please do read it) she acknowledges the real heroes of the era, including the GMHC and ACT UP.

Am I ready to "get over it"? Well...the whole thing remains a bit unsettling, so I can't say I'm over it. But I am ready to "move on". Hillary created a painful moment, but she has also begun a real healing process.

Kudos to you, Hillary.

Now we can get back to the important work of nominating someone to take on the republican candidate. Whoever is the republican nominee is part of the continuing problem with our public health response to AIDS. We need to restore AIDS education money. We need to make anti-retrovirals affordable for all who need them, both those infected, and those most at-risk for infection.

We have two candidates who have different approaches to that end. We can continue the dialogue about the best approach. But, as Bernie said in an early February debate, "On our worst days, I think it is fair to say, we are 100 times better than any Republican candidate".