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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
June 15 , 2001

 

Second gay man runs
for Cleveland council

Former radio host Buck Harris seeks Ward 17 seat

by Eric Resnick

Cleveland—Gay former radio personality Michael "Buck" Harris has announced his candidacy for Cleveland City Council.

Harris, 53, took out petitions June 12 to fill the Ward 17 seat of Tim Melena, who will retire from public life at the end of the year.

Harris, who was once dubbed "the Dorothy Fuldheim of gay Cleveland" after a well-known local TV commentator, said Melena asked him to get into the race after the council member decided to leave public life to spend more time with his family.

"Melena said to me: Look at your track record. You are the best candidate." said Harris, adding that he would have worked for Melena if he was the candidate.

Harris is well-known throughout his West Side ward which includes the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. The area west of Edgewater Park, with many gay residents, will no longer be in Ward 17 as a result of redistricting.

Harris believes the biggest issue in the ward is safety, and he believes his track record as an activist will give him an edge. Harris started the Bridge Brigade in 1990 as a neighborhood watch group. It was the first organized effort of its type in the city, and is still regarded the most effective.

Harris also organized the first citizens’ CB-radio patrol in the city. As a candidate, he plans to talk about truancy and curfew enforcement.

Harris said that he and his partner Michael O’Connor considered his decision to run very carefully.

"It was mostly based on the insanity of public life and politics," said Harris, "but I am ready. I have never been one to sit on the sidelines."

Harris’ radio show, The Gay 90’s with Buck Harris, first on WHK and then on WERE AM through much of the 1990s, was the first commercial gay talk show in the United States.

From 1983-1997, Harris worked for the Ohio Department of Health as its gay health consultant. In that capacity, Harris designed the early HIV and AIDS prevention materials used throughout the state.

"I want my outspokenness on issues to continue in City Council," said Harris. "I want to get on the Health Committee."

Harris said he believes the city has mismanaged and mishandled its HIV and AIDS prevention money, and cited a May 11 Plain Dealer story showing that only 12 percent of it is spent on gay men.

"I want to get to the bottom of that," he said.

Harris also promises to promote legislation providing domestic partners of city employees with benefits.

Harris will face two other Democrats in the October 2 city primary. Because there are so few Republicans in the ward, the primary winner will most likely win the seat November 6.

Also seeking the seat are Julie Candela and Matt Zone.

Zone is the brother-in-law of former Ohio attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Lee Fisher. Because of who he is, and that he declared his candidacy three months ago, Zone is considered the current front runner.

Harris acknowledges that he has an "uphill battle," but hopes that his endorsement from Melena and his coalition including the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community will put him ahead once his campaign takes off.

"It is going to cost $30,000 to beat Matt Zone," said Harris, "and I am hoping for support beyond the ward boundaries."

"I am ready to deepen my commitment and involvement and help shape my ward and the city," said Harris.

Harris’ ward borders Ward 14, where openly gay Joe Santiago is a council candidate.

Two other gay men are seeking city council seats in Ohio. James Moore-McDermott seeks an at-large seat on the Bucyrus city council, and won his primary May 8. Incumbent Toledo council member Louis Escobar is seeking re-election, and faces a September 11 primary.

The state’s other out elected official, Dayton city commissioner Mary Wiseman, said in January that she will not seek re-election.


 

Cincinnati Pride is twice as big in second year of return

by Andy Scahill
out in america

Cincinnati—This year’s Pride saw a remarkable increase in attendance, an outpouring of community support and heightened expectations for next year. The annual event returned for a second year after a five-year hiatus.

Organized by an independent committee, the Cincinnati Pride march and festival accomplished many "firsts" for a local Pride event, such as the program guide insert in City Beat, a free parking shuttle from the University of Cincinnati, and the flying of the rainbow flag with the U.S. flag in Hoffner Park.

The Cincinnati Pride Festival began at 11 am at the Burnet Woods Gazebo in Clifton. In the shade, parade goers lined up to start the parade and listened to local speakers.

Phebe Beiser and Vic Ramstetter of the Ohio Lesbian Archives and Crazy Ladies Bookstore challenged the crowd to preserve gay history and fight lesbian invisibility. Cynthia Jeffries spoke to the crowd to promote transgender inclusiveness in the Pride festivities.

The headline speaker for the rally was Scott McLarty, a former Cincinnati resident and national representative from the Green Party, called for coalition-building between liberal causes.

Local politicians John Schlagetter, Laketa Cole, David Crowley and John Cranley were all on hand to demonstrate their support for the GLBT community in Cincinnati.

At noon, the parade stepped off from Burnet Woods and began its two-mile trek down Ludlow Avenue to Hoffner Park. Peaches LaVerne, who holds the title as Cincinnati’s oldest female impressionist at age 76, returned for another year as the parade’s grand marshal.

This year’s parade saw a sizeable increase in participation from the religious community. One church, Mt. Auburn Presbyterian, organized a group of nearly a hundred marchers to demonstrate their support for GLBT rights. Meanwhile, hundreds of bystanders and supporters cheered on the parade in Cincinnati’s gay-friendly Northside district.

Pride culminated in a festival at Hoffner Park on Hamilton Road, where nearly 4,000 listened to music at the first-ever Out2Hoffner Park Music Festival.

Providing entertainment for the festival were Just the Band, the Tigerlilies, the Gordon Freeman Trio, Black Magic Rhythm All-Stars and local favorite Tracy Walker. While listening to the entertainment, festival-goers frequented dozens of booths from vendors, service organizations and media outlets.

Cincinnati police estimated attendance at the festival to be between 3,500 and 4,000 people, nearly double the attendance from last year.

"All aspects of the day were nearly flawless in execution," said 2001 Cincinnati Pride Parade and Festival organizer Ken Colgrove. "The weather was perfect, but more importantly, the crowd was spectacular! It was an incredible feeling to be surrounded by such positive energy from the community."


Protesters gather at Pride weekend ‘ex-gay’ confab

by Andy Scahill
out in america

Protesters gather at Pride weekend ‘ex-gay’ confab. Photo: Andy Scahill

 

Fairfield, Ohio--Approximately 50 GLBT individuals and supporters gathered on Saturday, June 9 to protest an "ex-gay" conference at the Tri-County Assembly of God Church in the Cincinnati suburb of Fairfield.

Presented by the anti-gay group Focus on the Family, the one-day "Love Won Out" conference purported to focus on "addressing, understanding and preventing homosexuality in our culture."

"It’s really a wolf in sheep’s clothing," explained Doreen Cudnik, executive director of Stonewall Cincinnati. "They claim to ‘offer options’ to people, but we know their political agenda. Their own literature is aimed at stopping all forms of tolerance for gay people."

Protesters went to great lengths to contact the local police and zoning departments to ensure that the demonstration was well within legal limits.

With signs that proclaimed "Repair cars, not us!" "Gay people are God’s people, too," and "Honk for gays," demonstrators presented their message to both the conference attendees and the cars coming through a nearby intersection.

"We were thrilled to have 50 people take the time to be there on such a beautiful day, and right before Pride," said Cudnik.

Speakers included Cudnik, the Rev. Richard Young of Dignity Dayton, and John Metcalf, a young man who had gone through "reparative" therapy and now speaks out against its harmful effects.

After the demonstration, protesters went to St. John Unitarian Church to take part in a Pride interfaith service.


Gay military discharges
up in 2000, says Pentagon

Army figures are double last year’s

by Eric Resnick

Washington, D.C.--During fiscal year 2000, the Pentagon discharged 1,231 gay and lesbian servicemembers, representing the largest yearly number since 1987, and the highest number since the 1994 beginning of the policy known as "don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue, don’t harass." Gay discharges in 1999 totaled 1,034.

The figures were released by the Pentagon in a June 1 report showing the most dramatic increase at the Army. Total discharges at the Army were 573, compared to 271 in 1999. Of the total, at least 161 were from Fort Campbell, Ky., where Pfc. Barry Winchell was murdered in a July 1999 gaybashing incident.

Gay discharges from the Navy increased to 358 compared to 314 in 1999. Eighty-one of these were from the Navy Nuclear Power Training Unit in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Marine Corps and Coast Guard showed smaller increases. The Marines dicharged 104, compared to 97 in 1999. The Coast Guard discharged 19, up from 12 in 1999.

Only the Air Force showed a reduction in gay discharges in 2000, at 177, compared to 352 in 1999.

The most significant Air Force finding is the drop in gay discharges at Lackland Air Force Base from 221 in 1999 to 37 in 2000. That drop is credited to the training conducted on the base by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington advocacy group serving those affected by the "don’t ask" policy.

Speaking for the Pentagon, Rear Admiral Craig Quigley attempted to minimize the report’s findings and would give no explanation for the increases.

Incorrectly claiming that the number of discharges at the Army increased "about 200," Quigley said, "200 out of a force of 1.4 million . . . you see a pretty flat line for the past three years."

"I don’t think the increase in any service was so striking as to cause a Department of Defense-level review," Quigley concluded.

But SLDN communications director Steve Ralls said the increases reflect ongoing problems with the implementation of the "don’t ask" policy.

"It comes from failure of leadership, unchecked harassment, and the lack of training of the recruits," said Ralls, noting that SLDN has been documenting these same failures since the policy became law.

Ralls pointed out that the official Pentagon response to questions about the discharges has changed. "They used to just say that all the discharges happened because servicemembers disclosed their sexual orientation, now they say they don’t know why this is happening."

Ralls suggested that the increase in discharges at the Army, particularly at Fort Campbell, may be related to the hostile climate toward gays and lesbians that led to the Winchell murder.

"We think that many of the 161 at Fort Campbell disclosed their sexual orientation so they could be discharged out of fear for their safety," said Ralls.

Ralls’ observation was supported by the statements of Dr. Paul Gott, a surgeon from Seattle who was dismissed from Fort Campbell in January after coming out to his commander.

Gott tended to Winchell following his beating death.

"Somewhere in the back of your mind is the ‘you could be next’ sort of thing," said Gott, adding that the military is a "very homophobic environment."

"I would not encourage any gay person to join the military," says Gott.

Ralls also noted that nearly all of the 1,231 discharges were people ages 18-25, which he says results from lack of training and an inaccurate public perception.

"I think people believe," said Ralls, "that under the current policy, gay people can serve as long as they don’t tell anyone they are gay, and in practice, that is just not so."

The Pentagon announced a year ago that it was bolstering training to try to eliminate harassment and educate personnel on the policy.

Ralls said the figures released last week are mostly from prior to that announcement, so it is still unclear what the result of that effort will be.

Ralls observed that the Army, the branch that doubled its gay discharges, currently has the best training program on the policy.

"It just shows that no matter how well-intentioned they are to implement the policy, it just doesn’t work."

Ralls says that the policy itself is flawed and does not work. Two of President Clinton’s highest ranking civilians appointed to the Department of Defense agree.

Former Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters said, "It may be the worst policy we can have in terms of the difficulty of administering it, but it is the only policy that seems to command a majority of Congress."

"The law was very thoroughly debated at the time Congress enacted it," said former Army Secretary Louis Caldera, "The services have no choice but to enforce that law and I do not believe that the Congress is going to revisit changing that law any time soon."

Quigley concluded, "Neither the president nor Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have expressed any interest in changing the current policy or law, and I don’t think there will be any effort to do that."


 

Council, Nationwide honored at HRC dinner

by Andy Scahill
out in america

Columbus--Nearly 900 dinner guests joined for the Human Rights Campaign Columbus Dinner, held on Saturday, June 2.

The evening began with a silent auction and cocktail mixer and then moved into the Hyatt Regency’s ballroom where host Suzanne Westenhoeffer began the evening’s entertainment.

Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut delivered the keynote address for the evening. Shays is one of the few House Republicans to receive a perfect rating from the Human Rights Campaign for his gay-supportive voting record.

Shays ended his keynote by presenting the premiere of an unpublished musical collaboration between k.d. lang and Carole King, entitled "An Uncommon Love," which King wrote for her gay friends and fans.

HRC Equality Awards were presented to Columbus activist Michael Council for his work on several local and national organizations and to Nationwide Insurance, for approving a domestic partnership plan and for promoting diversity within the workplace. Nationwide is headquartered in Columbus.

Headline entertainer RuPaul ended the evening with several songs from her recent CDs and a question and answer session with the audience.


 

News Briefs

Compiled from wire reports by Brian DeWitt, Anthony Glassman and Patti Harris.

 

Ohio high court to review gay-only proposition ban

Jefferson, Ohio--The Ohio Supreme Court announced May 23 that they would hear the appeal of Eric R. Thompson, a Jefferson man who was convicted of "importuning."

Ohio’s "importuning" law makes it a crime to proposition a person of the same sex if they would be offended by it, or if one is "reckless in that regard."

The law, which is often used as a charge in park or rest stop sex stings, is being challenged for singling out gay men and lesbians, since it does not apply to opposite-sex solicitation.

Thompson served six months in jail for propositioning a male jogger. A similar law for heterosexual situations has a maximum penalty of a fine.

Marie Lane, the Ashtabula County public defender working on Thompson’s case, was delighted.

"I am absolutely thrilled," she said. "Everyone I talk to about this case just can’t believe that such a law exists, and worse, that police departments are utilizing resources to actively enforce it."

"Historically, the greater public concern has been discouraging the solicitation of sexual activity for money, not consensual sexual activity."

No hearing date has been set for the case yet; all parties involve must submit their briefs before the supreme court schedules oral arguments.

South Shore restaurant closes

North East, Pa.—The saga of Patricia Graham and the South Shore Inn has reached an end with a June 2 story in the Erie Morning News that she is closing the restaurant, selling the bed and breakfast, ending her relationship with partner Danielle Hazen and moving herself and her children back to Scotland.

Graham first made news a couple of months ago when it was reported that the business was suffering after Rev. Patrick Kennedy of the North East Baptist Church warned parents not to let their children go to the South Shore Inn’s teen dances because Hazen and Graham are lesbians.

The reports brought an outpouring of support from the community for the women and their business, but it was not enough to put the bed and breakfast back in the black.

Adding to the pressures on Graham were immigration requirements that she take her children back to Scotland for one week every 90 days, costing $2,000 per trip.

Graham is not sure what she will do after moving back to the U.K., but said that if immigration standards loosen up, she will most likely return to the United States. In the meantime, a friend is running the bed and breakfast, 15 miles east of Erie, until it is sold.

Maryland rights repeal vote possible

Annapolis, Md.—Opponents of a gay equal rights bill signed into law by Gov. Parris Glendenning made a May 31 deadline, turning in an estimated 20,000 signatures in an attempt to force a referendum on the law.

The group must submit 46,128 signatures on petitions by June 30 to meet the requirements for a referendum. One-third of those, 15,376, were due by the end of May.

The signatures were turned in by an organization calling itself Take Back Maryland.

Glendenning issued a statement denouncing the efforts of the group.

Felonies charged in campsite attack

Lihue, Hawaii—Attempted murder charges were leveled June 1 against two young men who burned tents and attempted to run down gay campers at a state park.

Kauai District Court Judge Trudy Senda ruled that there was probable cause for the felony charges, and also added charges of terroristic threatening in the 3 am May 26 attack at Polihale State Park.

Eamonn deCarolan, 18, and Orion Macomber, 19, will be tried in Fifth Circuit Court, barring any plea bargains. Bail for each of the two stands at $250,000.

Macomber and deCarolan are accused of dousing the campers’ tents in kerosene and lighting them on fire, then trying to beat the campers with sticks and run them over with a Jeep. The campsite they attacked was marked with a large gay pride flag.

Police responding to 911 calls found deCarolan and Macomber asleep nearby, wearing clothing matching descriptions supplied by the victims of the attack, and there was a kerosene can near Macomber.

According to the victims’ reports, their attackers shouted epithets like "Die, faggot, die," and "Jesus told me to kill you," according to the Garden Island newspaper.


 

Throwing off sparks

‘Queer as Folk ‘co-star plays gay in a
most effective way

by Kaizaad Kotwal

Queer as Folk has fast become the highest-rated program in the history of Showtime. Since debuting last December, it has developed a faithful following.

At weekly Sunday gatherings, groups of friends gather to watch the latest shenanigans of a group of gay and lesbian Pittsburgh residents as they navigate the sexual, personal and professional waters of their troubled and often exotic existences.

The current season will soon climax; but next season is just around the corner.

Queer as Folk has been helped in large part by a sharp and effective promotional campaign unleashed by the cable network. Before critics and enemies of such frank programming had the chance to launch their arrows, the series’ ad campaign proclaimed that the show was too hot to handle.

Hal Sparks, one of the stars of the series, spoke with Gay People's Chronicle from his trailer in Toronto, where the show is filmed.

The affable and giving Sparks shed some light about this ground-breaking show, its impact on pop culture and the people who are queer as folk. Sparks, a straight man, plays Michael Novotny, probably the most interesting and complex of the series’ characters.

Michael is out to his friends but in the closet at work. At 30, he is a romantic at heart and has long carried the flame of unrequited love for Brian, the hunky hedonist who gets away with anything and everything. Michael has the boyish good looks of Justin (the 17-year-old neophyte on the show) bundled with maturity and a sense of responsibility to friends and family.

Yet he also has a childish innocence, obsessed with comic book characters and embarrassed by the double entendres of his sassy mother, played to campy perfection by Sharon Gless. In essence, Michael is the one you would most likely take home to your family; the most dateable one on this show.

So why does Michael continue to be friends with Brian, a self-absorbed, egomaniacal, sex-obsessed S.O.B.? Sparks says the relationship is complex, based in a lifelong friendship and undying love.

"As the series progresses, Brian grows up a bit," says Sparks.

Sparks is hopeful that the series will be renewed from year to year. "We have standard TV contracts and potentially could be in it for years." Based on current ratings, Sparks' dream may come true. But he knows the show’s longevity depends on the "audience's desire" and passing the "scrutiny of the core audience." (Showtime has ordered 20 more episodes for next season.)

I ask Sparks what it was like to play a gay person on a series that is so frank in its sexuality and depiction of sex. On one level, Sparks believes that playing a gay person isn't that different from his experiences as a straight man.

"It's about who he loves, about his level of self-esteem and that isn't all that different." On the other hand, Sparks admits, "The physical stuff is all new to me." And there is a lot of physical stuff for these actors to pull off. Sparks' concern is that he come "across as real and that it looks like there's true emotion behind him so that you end up caring for him."

The show's no-holds-barred portrayal of sex, with oodles of nudity, tantalizing close-ups and slick camera work, would be a challenge even for the most seasoned, uninhibited of performers. For Sparks, those scenes are "very medical, very clinical."

"It's all about hitting your mark, staying in the right light. There's much less emotional content in those scenes than in the relationship scenes, you know, the ones about the unrequited love."

Sparks is also very candid about the fact that everyone from the producers to the audience "has an agenda" about the controversy of the show. Sometimes, Sparks goes head to head with the creative team about choices that his character makes.

"I have to protect the character stuff," he explains, "because it can't be gratuitous. If Michael starts to have sex like Brian, in back alleys and at all times, in all sorts of places in every conceivable position, then it becomes completely unreal."

It seems that the producers, in wanting to keep the hype of controversy and full-fledged sex acts going strong, sometimes lose clarity about the authenticity of the characters and the story lines.

"I am the voice of Michael," Sparks says, "and not that of all gay men. There is a lot of pressure to be risqué. A lot of people were concerned that the American one wouldn't go as far as the British series. So," he adds matter-of-factly, "you get a chip on your shoulder and you try to keep pushing the envelope."

Despite the more liberal standards in Europe, Sparks reminds us that "the British series was on broadcast channels and we are on cable," giving the American series even more carte blanche.

As we talk in his trailer between filming shots that evening, Sparks wants to talk about another issue. "I feel a lot of pressure to be a spokesperson for the gay community now that I am playing this guy on television. And there is no way that I can be that. I can't pretend."

Sparks recounts the bizarre experience he had at the series’ New York première, which he attended with his girlfriend. "There was a lot of talk from the press, the gay press in particular, behind my back, about how I had showed up with a woman in tow."

Apparently, the press and some of the audience were disappointed that their image of Sparks' character didn't match that of the man on the red carpet that evening.

"I was just being honest about who I am in my life," says Sparks. "I think it would have been really insulting to the gay community and worse for me to have shown up at the première by myself, to be ambiguous and to lure the audience into a false sense of fantasy and security."

It's quite obvious that the gay community can be as prejudiced and inane in attacks on celebrities as can the mainstream media.

Sparks and I then turned our attention to the fact that a controversial and frank show like Queer as Folk has its fair share of detractors from the religious and political right; even some from within the gay community.

The former are concerned with the moral decline of America and their vision of modern-day Gomorrahs. Those within the community are concerned about the perpetuation of the stereotypes of gay men as promiscuous, drug-popping, bar-hopping sluts obsessed with designer underwear, full-body depilation and penis size.

Sparks is very aware of the agendas of both sets of detractors. "The danger," he says, "is of only watching the show initially. Of watching the pilot, glancing at it out of curiosity and making such gross judgments." For Sparks, there is much more going on.

"If I were a gay person, I would be concerned, but it needs to be remembered that these are the realities of these seven people and the club scene and not of all gay people. Their real lives, concerns and loves far outweigh the stereotypes of the drugs and alley sex."

Sparks is aware that "the danger is always from those who don't watch but hear bits and pieces from here and there."

Sparks, who came by his fame doing the funny and irreverent Talk Soup on the E! cable network is charming, funny, intelligent and extremely astute. His smile can light up the room and his boyish face exudes charm, sassiness and warmth all at once.

It is clear that he is having a ball playing Michael Novotny. He turns in a solid performance week after week, and in some ways is the grounding force of a group of characters that sometimes become very flaky; even unbelievable.

Gless, known for her role in the 1980s police drama Cagney and Lacey, is a hoot to watch. Her character accepts gay people more openly than anyone else on the show--including the gay characters themselves.

"She is like a rock, and I can always count on her," Sparks says. "She is the pro of the one-hour drama, and we are really like mother and son on the set."

Sparks also has high praise for all his co-stars, referring to them as "fantastic."

Our interview ends when Sparks must return to shooting. As the season winds up, he will be returning stateside to work on other projects. He’ll go back to Toronto in late summer to start shooting a second season of the series.

He promises great things to come as the series progresses, and says he is willing to come back and chat with us again. We certainly hope he does.

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