Monday, June 30, 2008

Sandi Smith, First Ward

I am happy to endorse Sandi Smith, Democrat, for First Ward in Ann Arbor City Council.

One of the joys of the internet is that I can write, and people around the globe can read what I write. (I know I have one reader in Geneva). It would appear from the first sentence that I am ignoring that potential global audience and only writing for a very local audience.


And No.

The actual endorsement is indeed to encourage First Warders to vote for Sandi, and that is a very local action. However, there is a bit of history that might make interesting reading for all.

A Bit of History

In 1972 Ann Arbor elected Nancy Wechsler to the City Council. She was a member of the Human Rights Party (HRP). While a member of the Ann Arbor City Council Nancy came out, becoming the first out lesbian elected official in the history of the United States.

In 1974 she declined to run for reelection. Kathy Kozachenko ran for her seat, and won, becoming the first openly gay candidate to successfully win an election in the United States.

Think on that! Ann Arbor holds two significant firsts in the history of LGBT politics.

We have not had an out lesbian on the City Council since then. We have had one openly gay man, Chris Kolb. That’s rather sad commentary after having achieved such a significant “First” so many years ago.

The Current State of LGBT Politics

There are many organizations that support LGBT, as well as LGBT-friendly candidates, but as far as I know there is only one organization out there whose sole function is electing out LGBT candidates, The Victory Fund. The Victory Fund has a priority of electing officials in “Horizon States”. A Horizon State is a state with no openly LGBT officeholder. Amazingly there are still several.

Electing openly gay candidates just because they are gay remains an important goal in many places. Meanwhile an important evolution is happening. There are openly LGBT candidates running throughout the country whose reason for running and whose platform are only peripherally related to the fact that they are gay or lesbian. Certainly their sexual orientation informs their politics. However, they are not single-issue candidates. They are running to serve a multitude of communities: geographic, demographic, economic, ethnic, etc.

We do not yet live in a post-gay world. In Michigan we live under the hateful Constitutional Amendment enacted by Proposition 2 in 2004. Yet in Ann Arbor we have laws that protect sexual orientation as well as gender identity. While we may have to yet win some hearts and minds in our town, our battles with City Hall are minimal. We have lawmakers and public servants who truly want to protect and serve all of the citizenry. As Sandi said to me in one of early discussions about the possibility of running, “If Ann Arbor’s statutes need some tweaking, I am sure Jim Toy will tell me about it and we will get it changed”. In other words, she is happy to advance LGBT causes, but recognizes that in this town and at this time there are not major battles we need to fight. And even more important, she knows who to talk to when she needs advice on LGBT political issues.


I am always thrilled to advance LGBT rights and LGBT political power. For that reason alone I would consider an endorsement of Sandi.

And yet, I endorse Sandi not because she is a lesbian. She is very open about her sexual orientation. She and her partner, Linda Lombardini, own a business together and are an integral part of the city’s LGBT Community. She is running, however, on her solid progressive values and her history of accomplishments.

Sandi’s campaign stresses sustainability, both economically and environmentally. While a member of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), and as chair of that organization, she supported a variety of progressive initiatives, including installation of bicycle lockers and bicycle hoops, construction of pedestrian friendly sidewalks, funding for several non-motorized transportation studies, getDowntown program, go!passes, The Link, and more.

She supported Art in Public Places, historic preservation, the Farmer’s Market renovation, and soon, thanks to Sandi, we will see Recycling Containers next to trash containers throughout downtown.

Sandi has served on boards and volunteered for organizations as diverse as the Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project (WRAP), the Ann Arbor Board of Realtors, the Greenway Taskforce, FestiFools, websiteTask Force on Sustainable Revenue for Affordable Housing, and more.

In short, Sandi has progressive values, a belief in a better Ann Arbor, and a history of accomplishment. Others may talk about what they WANT to do. Sandi has a history of “Getting It Done”. She has gotten it done as a businesswoman in the First Ward, as an active citizen, as a member of the DDA, and as a member of the LGBT community. These are challenging times in Michigan and in Ann Arbor. We need someone with a proven record representing us on City Council.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Gay Days 2008

I suspect that this blog entry may largely interest Disney-philes. As I explained in the “Gay Days at Disney” entry, I have not always been a Disney-phile. I used to be a Disney-phobe because Uncle Walt was a homo-phobe.

But all that has changed. We have just returned from another fun-filled and queer-filled weekend at Disney's Gay Days.

The week is filled with circuit parties, pool parties, business expos, dances, films, support groups, and more. However, our involvement has always been rather basic. This year it was more than enough to do the Gay Days Theme Park Rotation:
  • Thursday – Animal Kingdom
  • Friday – Hollywood Studios
  • Saturday – The Magic Kingdom (the BIG DAY)
  • Sunday – EPCOT

Random Thoughts and Memories of Gay Days 2008:
  • The idea of Gay Day is that we are in the majority on Saturday in the Magic Kingdom, and we prove the point by wearing red. So what is up with the queer folk who show up without a red shirt?
  • I was blessed with Good Bus Karma this weekend. It seemed every time I wanted a bus, monorail, train, or boat it showed up in less than five minutes.
  • We were picking up fast passes for Space Mountain. Martin got his. Mine did not print out. So a Cast Member (Disney Employee) came over, banged his fist on the Fast Pass Machine, and eight printed out. In response to my compliments on his technical prowess he said, “We are trained in the magical arts”. We proceeded to gain more Good Karma by coming back at our Fast Pass Time, and handing out all those extra Fast Passes good for that moment. Folks were elated. Queers not in red shirts were not eligible.
  • We learned about the “Disney Point”. Disney Cast Members never point with a single finger. There are two theories behind this. The theory Cast Members are told is that in certain cultures pointing is offensive, and you are likely to point AT someone unintentionally when you are giving directions or bringing something to a customer’s attention. Therefore you GESTURE with two fingers or your entire hand…never with a single finger. Notice that flight attendants and other public customer service folks have picked up on the “Disney Point”.
The OTHER theory is based on this bit of trivia. Walt Disney was a heavy smoker. All photos of him in Disney control have been altered to airbrush out the cigarettes (though amusingly the smoke and shadows often remain). So there are many photos of Disney with two fingers extended. The theory goes that all Cast Members must use the Disney Point to rationalize the odd photos of Uncle Walt. While the airbrushing story is true, I have found nothing to corroborate this as the origin of the Disney Point.
  • The 1:00 p.m. performance of the Country Bear Jamboree was attended by over 1000 Bears (requiring 3-4 performances). As always it was one of the highlights of the day.
  • Disney has renamed the MGM Theme Park as Hollywood Studios. This is in keeping with a greater emphasis on Pixar throughout all of Disney. The newest attraction is Toy Story Mania, and it is truly awesome. A 3-D Midway Games with the gang from Toy Story. Zowie. (Little Green Army Men, “Break Those Plates! I Am Not Your Mother! Break Those Plates”.
  • Disney employees love Gay Days. And not just the queer Cast Members. The straight folks seem to love joining in the fun. Many of them request to work Gay Days. One (straight) woman has worked the Bear Run at the Country Bear Jamboree for four years now. And she is having almost as much fun as the rest of us.
  • Pin Trading at Disney is a fairly recent craze. People collect Disney Pins based on favorite characters, or movies, or parks. For the last three years they have produced special rainbow pins. This year's were fun pins with "Bobble Feet" of Rainbow Mickey, Rainbow Minnie, and for the first time, Rainbow Donald. Check them out: (The rainbow pins are all the way to the bottom of the page on this link).
  • Best Meal of the weekend: Toss-up between our first time at Les Chefs de France in Epcot right after our arrival and a repeat visit to Narcoossee’s on Saturday, watching the Magic Kingdom Fireworks from across the Seven Seas Lagoon. Honorable Mention always goes to the campy (but very tasty) Prime Time Diner at Hollywood Studios.

Overheard comment from a man (in red) in a wheelchair, and a person who appeared to be his partner, “All those years in the closet. I think this is the happiest I have ever been”. Truly Disney World is the “Happiest Place On Earth” for this fellow on this particular Gay Day.

Michigan Smoking Ban Follow-up

“I blog therefore I am.”

Would Rene Descarte say that today?

“I came, I blogged, I conquered.”
Would Caesar say that today?

I wonder these things in the context of wondering why I (or anyone else) blogs. There are, I am sure, a myriad of reasons: to make a difference, to make people think, to change someone’s mind, to inform people, to entertain readers.

But no matter what the reason, bloggers want to be read. We know we are being read from various statistics packages that tell us about unique visitors, length of time a visitor spends on the blog, country of the visitor, and more.

But nothing confirms readership more than feedback. I have received more feedback on my entry about the State of Michigan smoking ban than any other subject. I’ve gotten email, phone calls, and many folks have stopped me in the \aut\ BAR to talk about it.

The biggest question is, “What is happening with the ban?”

An excellent question! There had been a lot of activity in Lansing and a lot of media coverage. Suddenly about two weeks ago it all fell silent. News searches turn up nothing and there has been no activity in either the House or Senate. So I went to one of my best Lansing sources, House Representative Rebekah Warren. Our friendship with Rebekah was forged by fire. During the Proposition 2 fight of 2004 Rebekah did more to try and defeat that hate-inspired amendment than any straight person in the State of Michigan.

I called her office this afternoon expecting to get information from a staffer. Lo and behold the afternoon House session had ended early and I had a chance to have a long discussion with Rebekah on the subject. Here’s what I learned:

Details have stalled the bill

If you read news reports this is not news, but here is a recap. The Democratic-controlled House passed a smoking ban that exempted several categories of businesses (casinos, cigar bars, bingo halls, and a few others). The Republican-controlled Senate passed a version with NO exemptions. For a bill to become law both chambers have to pass identical versions. Several democratic house members are worried about passing a ban without an exemption for casinos. The casinos are major employers in their districts, and are lobbying against the ban. As of now the House does not have the votes to pass the bill without the exemptions, and the Senate does not have the votes to pass it with the exemptions. The current status is a stalemate.

In about two weeks the Legislature will recess, and members will go into full election mode. In other words, if a compromise is not reached and passed in the next two weeks it is unlikely that anything will happen again until the end of the year at the earliest.

Behind the scenes negotiations are taking place

House Majority Leader Andy Dillon and Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop are talking. They are also being lobbied hard. In fact, Rebekah tells me that of all the issues the House has tackled since she took office no issue has generated as much response from her constituents as the smoking ban. In her case she has received overwhelming support for the ban.

Action you can take

Of course you can always contact your State Representative or Senator, but frankly the power is in the hands of a few right now. The most important are the leaders of the two chambers. Drop these guys a letter, email, or call their office and tell them this is too important to let die over minor differences. Ask them to find a workable compromise and pass the ban.
Andy Dillon
Speaker of the House
District 17
Ph: 517.373.0857
Room 166 Capitol Building

Senator Mike Bishop
Senate Majority Leader
P.O. Box 30036
Lansing, MI 48909-7536
(517) 373-2417
(517) 373-2694 – FAX
To email him you have to follow this link to the Senate Contact Page:

The stumbling blocks in the house are the Detroit area Democrats. If you visit casinos, or like to visit them, let your state representative, or a Detroit state representative know that you would visit, or visit more often if the casinos were smoke-free.

That’s the summary from Representative Rebekah Warren. Drop HER a line at and thank her for being the best friend the gay community has in the State House right now.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Gay Days at Disney

We are on our way to our seventh year attending the big party for Queer Mouseketeers. We return every year because Gay Days has so many elements that make for a perfect vacation:

Queer Friendly

There is a reason that GLBT folk like to travel to places that have a lot of us. Coming out is stressful. We have to do it over and over. It gets easier with repetition. That first time telling a friend that you like boys is one of the hardest things any of us ever do. And then informing the parental units! And a little piece of that stress is with us every time we are introduced to someone new and we let them know that "No I am not married. I've been with the same man for 22 years, but we are not allowed to be married".

Why go through that on vacation? When we check in to a gay guesthouse in Key West no one stops to consider our sexual orientation.

Disney is pretty-much queer friendly anytime of the year. I have heard that 30% of Disney World Employees are gay. Not a surprise. They are one of the biggest employers of musicians, entertainers, and service industry employees in the country. And if there are any careers that scream queer they would probably be musicians, entertainers, and the service industry.


Okay, not such a big deal the first weekend in June as we finally get a taste of summer in Michigan. But after such a long winter I welcome the thought of near-sweltering weather.


In my younger years my escapist vacations were trips to the far North Country. Bush pilots (no not THAT Bush) in northern Canada would fly us hundreds of miles away from civilization, and we would paddle our way out. They were great trips. Alas, I am in no shape to try such a trip again, and probably would not be able to arrange enough time off to do so in any case.

In lieu of that, how much more escapist can you get than to spend a part of your day in Muppetvision 3-D or going to Infinity and Beyond to help Buzz Lightyear defeat the evil Zurg? Or going inside a Twilight Zone episode then being dropped 13 floors by a possessed elevator?

How about spending 15-20 minutes with animatronic bears doing a "Country Bear Jamboree" in Grand Ole Opry fashion. If that's not enough, see the show at 1:00 p.m. on Gay Day at the Magic Kingdom when all the Bears (yes, those bears) gather to watch the production. Oh my. It is a hoot and a holler, and one of the most fun things you could ever imagine.


Gay Days started seventeen years ago on the whim of some friends. It has grown into a week-long event that is attended by over 100,000 GLBTQ folk and our allies. There are circuit parties and business expos, drag shows and leather contests, Pool Parties and Comedy shows, Film Festivals and Beer Busts. All this and more.

But at the heart of it all remains Gay Day at the Magic Kingdom. It is always the first Saturday in June. Thousands of the entire diversity of the queer community attend. There are gay and lesbian parents with their kids, circuit boyz a bit hungover or strung out from the night before, every gender expression imaginable, bears and twinks, femmes and butches. Singles, couples, and truples.

And we are all there for one reason.

Have fun at the park.

And it is so much more fun when you get to be the majority. And we get to SEE that we are the majority because everyone wears red. The sea of red over the land of the Mouse is a sight to behold.

But here is the best thing. It was not always like this. Disney used to be the evil empire. Gays were banished from the magic Kingdom by edict of Uncle Walt himself. It did not fit with his ideas of "family". I think the change started within minutes of Walt's death. The company was an entertainment behemoth, and therefore had more queers in it than a production of Chorus Line. Once the cult Father Figure (or in this case Uncle Figure) was out of the picture Disney went from oppressor to friend remarkably quickly.

A trip to Gay Days is a celebration of who we are and the change that can happen in our society. It is also a chance to take a picture of your partner with a triceratops.