Letter From Los Angeles
November 2010
© 2010 Joel

Quotes of the Issue

“In politics you have to be able to deal with the other side despite strong convictions.”—Conservative columnist David Brooks.

“Government is the enemy until you need a friend.”—Former Secretary of Defense, before that U.S. Senator, William Cohen

“The era of big government is over.” Wait, I haven’t finished. Clinton’s next sentence reads, “Self reliance and teamwork are not opposing goals. We must have both.”—William Jefferson Clinton, former President of the United States

"Try Something Hard: Governing." A New York Times editorial in response Republican threats to destory Obama in the new Congress, November 14, 2010.

The Midterm Elections: The Irrational Leading The Irrational

T.V.’s Larry King says that the worst thing about being dead is not knowing how it all turns out. Somehow Joel is optimistic despite the election’s outcome. I would also like to hang around to see how the Tea Party is treated by historians. I predict they’ll be a footnote to our history, and that constructive conservative heads will prevail again.

The Democratic victory in 2008 and the Republican win the other week have this in common–emotionality. I’m a big fan of emotions. Our hearts have much to tell.

What I don’t like is “hearts one, heads zero.” Few Obama enthusiasts thought twice about voting for an unknown quantity. During the campaign I wrote that Obama was a man I could deal with when the noise calmed down. He was more pragmatic than his supporters had imagined. Of course no one could have known how unsure a political leader he would become. Obama was the Jesus come to save us. This perception (and the entertainment value for the media) won the day,

This time ‘round Republicans caught emotions. Senseless slogans like “I want my country back” and such contradictions as “I want the government to do better, so it had better get out of my way” prevailed. And to hammer home their point, Tea Party inspired voters retired the likes of Wisconsin’s clean government champion Senator Russ Feingold- of all people- in their zeal.

That’s what elections are mostly about, you know, emotions over thinking, which is behind what too many of us do.

The Midterms and The Constitution

Tea Party conservatives profess to love the U.S. Constitution. What about the Constitution do they especially love? We the People, or We the Corporations? The Bill of Rights beyond Amendment #2? Equal protection for all citizens under law? The enfranchisement of women? The part about bills of attainder? Prohibition? Its repeal?

Just as Jesus never mentions homosexuality in The Bible, the U.S. Constitution says nothing about a social safety net or capitalism, the Supreme Court’s right to review the acts of Congress, or a self reliant creed. The blessings of liberty are not reserved for any particular gender, religious background other than Muslim, political or sexual orientation or social class.

Yes, Larry King, I too would like to live forever. Or at least long enough to see the return of Republicans like Ike or Barry Goldwater. We need them badly now.

The Tea Party

The bigots among them are contemptible, but racial hatred is not what the Tea Party is primarily about. I see the essence of the movement as “Government, get out of my life and provide me with what I need. Do what you have to, just don’t hand me or anybody else the bill.”

Independent’s Day

Don’t be mistaken. Because I am a registered Independent does not mean that I blow with every wind. I vote for the Democrat almost every time. Liberal Republican Carol Marshall, whom I assisted in her unsuccessful run for the California Senate in the 1980’s, was mad as hell when I switched from Republican to Independent. “I don’t care whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat,” she thundered, “as long as you take a stand.” Hear that, flip flop “independent” voters?

Don’t Even Ask

A recent political cartoon in the Sunday New York Times shows a mother and a father at Arlington National Cemetery looking at a grave. “Nobody asked,” says the grief stricken mother. “He’ll never tell,” says the dad.

Gay Suicides, Gay Marriage

Since my last newsletter several youngsters, notably a college student at Rutgers who was videotaped having sex with another guy, have killed themselves because of being bullied.

A reader from L.A. named Lloyd has made a point. In the case of the Rutgers student, why didn’t the other fellow on the tape jump off a bridge? Would someone with sturdier inner resources have responded to enormous stress that way?

What do we do with bullies who drive their peers to suicide? Do we destroy their lives, too? I’m not certain, but this I know. Somebody dies as a consequence of your bullying and something serious happens to you. Punishment which enables the perpetrator to feel shame and, hopefully, change can be a mercy.

Recognize that even college students are still growing- aren’t we all?- and need monitoring. Parents: discuss bullying over dinner, assuming families eat together any more. I advocate a national Consciousness Raising 2010, with gay teenagers speaking before classrooms and assemblies, and more gay-straight alliances at willing schools.

We could produce screen dramatizations of the consequences of bullying. Thank you CNN, especially Kyra Philips and Anderson Cooper, for relentless coverage of the subject. Parent associations need to make the elimination of bullying a priority. When necessary, parents and teachers can take turns on bullying patrol. School policy must go beyond fuzzy rhetoric to a clear definition of which behaviors are unacceptable and a clear exposition of the consequences for those who break the rules.

Having been “married” to two guys all these years I surely champion same sex marriage, but gay marriage cannot be our only goal. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids who kill themselves won’t be walking down any aisle. I expressed this in a recent letter to San Francisco’s Bay Area Reporter, which for the first time ever has declined to print my words.

Growing Up Gay: I Came. I Griped. I Became Quite Active.
(And Dianne Feinstein’s Dick!)

“You were a Log Cabin Republican? WHY?” is a most familiar whine. The shocked-faced incredulity is supported by some truths. Democrats are more supportive of gays than most Republicans, and allying with other underdogs makes political sense. (Unfortunately, the minorities, older voters and financially challenged of Harvey Milk’s winning coalition supported anti- gay marriage Proposition 8.)

The “How could you have been a Log Cabin Republican?” crowd had been less tolerant of diversity within diversity than I’d imagined. “Plantation” politicians remind gay voters they have no choice but to vote Democratic. I believed I had a choice.

“Look, Moppet, there’s the Golden Gate Bridge!” became “Been there, done that” all too soon. If I didn’t find more to do in San Francisco than being Ethel Mertz the landlady I’d go mad. Since Proposition 6, the anti-gay teacher initiative, I had remained politically active, but with the GOP.

Before the party went “God, gays and guns,” Log Cabin contingents, first known in San Francisco as Concerned Republicans for Individual Rights, were cheered at gay parades. We thought we needed one another in those days. CRIR was “fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” and liberal Republican office holders like Senator Lowell Weicker, Rep. Pete McCloskey and State Senator Milton Marks did us proud.

Though I now oppose the party of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Sarah Palin with all my might and main, I stayed with Log Cabin well into that Reagan’s second term. I found it hard to break a lifelong habit and to leave my friends, and something else you’re not going to like. The S.F. County Chairman once asked me why I had become a Republican. My reply- that the ultra liberals I knew were “the biggest bunch of shits I’d ever met”- made him blush.

My conservatism had been as much a response to the liberals I had known growing up as my devotion to Ayn Rand. A verse from “Easy To Be Hard” from the musical Hair helps explain.

And especially people who care about strangers
Who care about evil and social injustice
Do you only care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend?

I was puzzled how so many obnoxious individuals became “socially conscious” at the polls. A radical gay group in San Francisco called BAGEL stormed out of meetings when they didn’t get their way. Radical lesbians walked out of entertainments en masse when they were “offended” by a joke. Progressives just assumed I was on their side.

I first got into trouble with Log Cabin when I started volunteering for Democratic campaigns. In addition to being in ideological transition, I was eager for the fun. Making phone calls, knocking on doors and the occasional rejection were exciting. They call it GOTV (Get Out The Vote), or organization. When I finally re-registered as an Independent who always votes Democratic, no one at Log Cabin was surprised.

California’s veteran Senator Dianne Feinstein had gotten off to a terrific start as San Francisco’s mayor. Following Jonestown and the assassinations she led with confidence and grace. She became politically vulnerable when she championed handgun control, refused to appear in gay parades and vetoed domestic partnership in her first term. (Some, like myself, wonder if gay Supervisor Harry Britt didn’t set her up for that veto.) The White (not Gray) Panthers were out to get the mayor because she favored gun control, and they coalesced with disaffected gays.

At the swearing in ceremony of San Francisco’s first openly gay judge I ran into the beautifully turned out Feinstein. Her opponents had just collected enough signatures to force a recall election. I told her, “Mayor, I don’t always agree with you.” She nodded eagerly. “But this recall you don’t deserve.” She needed to hear that.

They called us the Ironing Board Brigade, because Feinstein volunteers fanned out all over the city to line up support using ironing boards as desks. John joined me every Saturday he could. During a stint in the Castro a gay man who was just my type shouted, “What kind of gay are you?” How I wanted to offer him the opportunity to find out.

Feinstein won the recall with 89% of the vote and was a shoo-in the next election. Her Honor was a moderately liberal Democrat, which to many San Franciscans meant Mussolini. And she was one tough boss. I’ve heard how she treated department hands at Monday morning meetings. “Thank you” was not in her vocabulary. Yet the grumpy mayor once did a cancan at a party! She who had vetoed domestic partnership drove people with AIDS to their medical appointments and refused to publicize her deeds.

The Feinstein story to end them all took place at an early 1980’s lighting of the Castro Christmas tree. The Gay Men’s Chorus was gaily singing and the mayor’s presence attracted quite a crowd. Wearing the most beautiful mink coat I had ever seen and looking gorgeous, Feinstein introduced her new, third husband, multimillionaire Richard Blum, to the guys. “I want you to meet my Dick!” she announced grandly, and mistook the gales of laughter for good will.

As Feinstein’s mayoral tenure wound down I volunteered for her logical successor, the liberal Republican president of the Board of Supervisors, John Molinari. His opponent was State Senator Art Agnos, a former social worker from Springfield, MA. While new in San Francisco, Agnos had been randomly shot by San Francisco’s notorious “Z” killer and survived.

By now our foggy city had three gay Democratic clubs: the Harvey Milk, Alice B. Toklas (known as “Alice”), and Stonewall. I was startled one Saturday morning when the doorbell rang and an Agnos volunteer was standing at my threshold. Without a word I pointed to the Molinari signs that wallpapered the building. I’ve never forgotten his good natured “They’re both good men!” Imagine that being said today.

I don’t know how it is where you live, but in San Francisco one routinely meets elected officials socially, in the stores and on the streets. Soon I was on first name basis with “Dianne,” “John” and “Carol Ruth” (both Supervisors) and “Louise,” the City Attorney. What a bunch of characters. I was invited to the home of State Senator Marks to dial for campaign contributions. The millionaire politician treated volunteers to a dish of broken crackers.

Speaking of rich political figures, at my last political stand in San Francisco, for Feinstein’s re-election for Senate in the late 90’s, her mother-in-law chided me for throwing a used envelope away. One afternoon a substantial contribution arrived from Linda Bird Johnson, Lyndon’s eldest daughter. Moments later I opened a much smaller check from a former colleague of my mother’s from New York.

I volunteered at every governmental level, from Board of Supervisors, mayor, state legislature, governor and judge to U.S. Congress and President. In one Congressional primary campaign I met a winsome gay lawyer who reads this Letter. Then there was the matter of Harvey Milk’s successor, and of a lady whose name you’ve come to know.

Following the assassinations, Feinstein appointed native Texan Harry Britt to succeed Harvey on the Board. Britt’s priority was rent control. Mom and pop landlord Joel had developed a position on rent control he holds today.

Keeping rents affordable for people in economic trouble, and not to subsidize yuppies or a city’s middle class, is acceptable to me. The funding for this project ought to come from a sharply progressive city income tax, not by fixing market rents. In a published letter to the editor I concluded, “I can hear the screams from the Haight (ultra liberal) all the way to Pacific Heights (the dominion of San Francisco’s rich).”

So why did I bust my butt to send Harry Britt to Congress? Cynics like myself say that I wanted him out of town, which I surely did. But something more. My letter to the Bay Area Reporter cited “the significance of sending one of our own to Capitol Hill.” And, in a remarkable ideological shift for me, “I believe that Harry’s leftward looking, somewhat rumpled presence would provide a welcome contrast to Reagan, and his different voice bring a bit of balance to a frightfully reactionary federal bench, the likes of Pat Robertson and a thirst for an AIDS witch hunt.”

I concluded, “You don’t have to love the candidate to vote for him.” Britt was too diffident to greet voters on the street. He hid in a doorway while “name” supporters shook hands on his behalf. I loved him not at all.

Harry lost the primary and left government service long ago, but not before I lacerated the victor of that campaign in print. She had never held elective office but was a fundraiser beyond compare. I called her a “a bumbling caretaker.” And after she bested Harry I suggested that “Instead of purchasing a home in the D.C. suburbs, the Great Fundraiser consider signing a short term lease on a furnished flat.” Some way to speak of Nancy Pelosi, who went on to become the Speaker of the House.

At the post election party I told Harry I was a registered Republican, and when I said I was a landlord I thought he’d s---. A beet faced Britt explained his animosity to landlords confidentially, so I’m honor bound not to squeal. I’ll just say that politicians need to separate their hang-ups from their positions.

In the fall of 1992, I was a precinct leader for Bill Clinton and Al Gore. A Ross Perot supporter nearly kicked me down his stairs. One young woman, a newcomer to San Francisco who was Republican, scolded, “You speak of tolerance when my neighbors are intolerant of me.” I pulled “They’re both good men,” to no avail. At the Clinton victory celebration in the Castro we were congratulated for having the most house signs of any precincts in the country. I was responsible for that.

A few years earlier I pursued a dream deferred and enrolled in a community college class in journalism. Luckily for me, the instructor was the co-founder and editor of the Bay Area Reporter, the largest circulation gay paper in the state. After completing a few homework assignments I popped the question- was my writing up to the standards of his paper? Paul Lorch said I wrote as well as any of his reporters and asked if I would accept an occasional assignment. Thus began my short newspaper career.

My maiden effort was covering a memorial service for creator of gay entertainment events Michael Manetta, who was the most celebrated member of our community to have thus far died of AIDS. I stayed up all night perfecting the piece and Paul was pleased.

The next assignment was a challenge. I was to profile Robert Bacci, a young lawyer who was running for the Community College Board. Complications included his being president of Log Cabin, my lawyer, and a 30 something blond on whom I had a crush.

Bob held some controversial opinions, but he was honest and unafraid to speak his mind. He spoke of his ambition to be a U.S. senator, never realized because he died of AIDS. He mentioned his family’s homophobia and I was in a jam. The family situation was integral to his story, but had I mentioned it his powerful father might have gotten back at him. It never dawned on me to ask Bob’s permission.

My swan song at the paper was a piece I wasn’t even interested in. A gay activist had gone to Small Claims Court over a disputed pay raise and won. Paul wanted me to continue with the paper, but I no longer showed an interest. Paul remained our friend and asked my help with other projects later on.

I also wrote letters to the Chronicle and the Examiner. I could be harsh. “Some choice!” I began a published letter in the early 1990’s. “A meanie mayor (Art Agnos) who manipulates voters’ fears of racism and homophobia enough to make me gag. A political neophyte of a challenger (Police Chief Frank Jordan) whose closest advisors are in this to settle political scores.” Of gays who didn’t vote the way I liked I wrote, “The religious right could not have won without your help.” Always the diplomat, even then.

I had a little fun at the expense of Speaker of the California Assembly Willie Brown. My letter was printed within a box! Referring to a clever political maneuver I concluded, “Where there’s a Willie, there’s a way.”

I advocated respect for prosperous gays and lesbians in Boston’s Gay Community News way back in 1979. I regret opposing San Francisco’s closure of gays’ bathhouses to halt the spread of AIDS in ‘84. Back then I wrote “a small and self righteous powerful band is making choices for us all.”

“Statists never tire of subordinating human liberty to their private notions of morality and their voracious appetite for political power,” I continued. “Feinstein’s pleasure has been to outlaw whatever inconveniences or annoys her. Prohibition of handguns, smoking in the workplace and bathhouse sex are cut out of the same cloth.... If it suited their purposes, those who brought you sexless bathhouses would invent a rationale for prohibiting you!” And finally, “Stand up and holler for your liberties while you can.”

Milk or lemon with your tea?

Next: The Conclusion of The Series. “AIDS And Beyond: Still Growing Up Gay”

Joel: Letters