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04/19/2007


GLAAD Tidings: A Lunch with Sarah Kate Ellis

BY DAVID MIXNER

EllisIn recent history, it would be hard to find a time when there has been such remarkable progress so quickly on LGBT rights. The fight for marriage equality has been especially extraordinary in its acceptance by Americans. You know we have made progress when in the deep South over 40% of citizens support the freedom to marry for LGBT Americans.

Times have indeed changed and in some cases, very quickly.

That rapidity has presented challenges for our LGBT organizations across the country. Our national organizations have had to reevaluate their missions, reasons for existence and reorganize for the struggles that will exist for LGBT citizens around the world in this 21st Century. Those which refuse to adapt to the new reality will be left behind or become shadows of their former selves.

LGBT Americans have a right and indeed, an obligation, to question each organization on how they plan to use their funds and their vision for the future. The world has changed dramatically since their inception in the last century.

Sitting down for lunch with the new charismatic, smart new leader of GLAAD, Sarah Kate Ellis, I had some tough questions for the former corporate executive.

Did GLAAD still needed to exist? What is its mission and vision for the future? Where does it fit into the epic battles that still lie ahead? After all, hadn't the organization been through some difficult times in recent years?

Here are some of the thoughts Ellis shared with me over lunch last week:

— That the GLAAD brand is still powerful and has the ability to gain instant access to the media and its titans around the world. That brand in itself should not be casually discarded.

— GLAAD must reorganize into a nimble, streamlined organization with the capacity to respond quickly to any crisis around the world and has already begun that process.

— While we have seen dramatic progress for LGBT citizens in television we still have a long way to go in film and music.

— Not only does GLAAD have to adapt to the changing world of social media but so do all the media outlets. Many media giants that existed when GLAAD was founded no longer exist or are shadows of their former selves.

— As the communications arm of the LGBT movement, the organization intends to create a 'new narrative' to change the hearts and minds of people internationally.

— With all the pain that is taking place in places like Russia or Africa, it is no longer enough to admonish someone for using the "F" word, have them do a PSA and then give them an award for their enlightenment .

— The end of the Sochi Olympics is just the beginning of the work. GLAAD intends to meet with NBC, the sponsors, the IOC and sports editors to see that such a travesty never happens again.

— Ellis feels strongly that if the LGBT community must be ready for the World Cup in Russia. The international sports entities must be educated, held accountable and pass tough new policies and regulations.

— To that end, GLAAD will soon announce an exciting new partnership with You Can Play to strengthen ties with professional sporting leagues and organizations.

— Ellis believes GLAAD must become the 'communications bridge' between Americans and LGBT citizens fighting for their lives in other countries. GLAAD has created 'Global Voices' to work with our brother and sisters overseas.

— Such efforts internationally must be tailored to the needs and challenges of the local populations and not just repeat the success here in America.

— GLAAD is working with key government entities that specialize in communication outreach into areas with authoritarian governments to make sure LGBT issues are part of that outreach.

— Domestically, the new executive director points out while we have made progress on marriage equality we have still not passed ENDA. Ellis noted that we might soon have more states for marriage equality than we have states with legal protections for LGBT Americans in the workplace.

— GLAAD has an especially powerful program around transgender rights. An amazing amount of work must be done with the United States media to ensure that our success is enjoyed by the entire community.

Ellis closed the lunch by saying, "You know David, I can't imagine a world without GLAAD."

Discussing all this with her over lunch made me realize I was sitting in the presence of a powerful new leader in the LGBT community. Ellis, who was an expert at 'turnarounds' before joining GLAAD, said she took the job because she has a deep respect for the GLAAD brand, and its potential for reinvention.

I wish her well in what is a major challenge in bringing GLAAD back to its former glory. I believe she just might pull it off.


Jack Conway: Bluegrass Courage!

Jack_conway

BY DAVID MIXNER

As the saying goes you are allowed no more than just fifteen minutes of fame. There are just too many people to absorb in our brave new world of social media. However, just hit the pause button for a minute. Take just an extra minute or two if you missed it earlier this week to see an endangered species that is available for viewing right now.

What kind? An elected official with real courage.

KyxKentucky Attorney General Conway, in one of the most homophobic states in America, held an astounding press conference refusing to use the powers of his office to defend the state's ban on gay marriage. (Watch the video of the conference here).

If you think that Conway is some old liberal who has nothing to lose you could not be more wrong. The Attorney General is the future of the Democratic Party in Kentucky and the rising star is viewed as very likely to be the next Governor. There is a real possibility in taking this position he could have seriously hurt his future chances in the Bluegrass State.

The latest poll out of Kentucky has 55% of the people opposing gay marriage, one of the highest percentages in the United States.

Conway is a good old boy handsome pol who is Catholic. He has had a presence in Kentucky politics for years. To make him even more Kentuckian, he and his father raised thoroughbred horses and actually had one run in the Kentucky Derby. When he ran for Attorney General the Louisville Courier-Journal found him to be a moderate to conservative Democrat who came out against marriage equality.

Said Conway  in an interview this week with TPM:

"Conway, who opposed same-sex marriage during his failed run for the U.S. Senate in 2010, wouldn't pinpoint when he changed his mind to support full marriage equality. He said he came around "over the last few years" after conversations with friends in the gay community, and after thinking about how his two daughters would come to view his decision.

"I thought long and hard. I thought about the arc of history," he said. "I thought about the fact that at one time in this country we discriminated against women. At one time we discriminated against African-Americans and people of color. At one time we discriminated against those with disabilities. This is the last minority group in this country that a significant portion of our population thinks it's OK to still discriminate against in any way. And I didn't think that was right."

***

"To discriminate and not allow two people to marry does not have a rational basis under the law, and therefore it cannot withstand scrutiny under the equal protection [clause of the 14th Amendment]," Conway said, arguing that laws against gay marriage are unconstitutional.

Barring a sudden and swift change in statewide public opinion, the decision poses potential dangers for the attorney general, who has served in the role since 2008, and told TPM he intends to run for governor in 2015 once Beshear maxes out his two terms.

"My wife Elizabeth knew what I wanted to do in my heart," he said. "And at one point she pulled me aside and said 'Jack, you stink when you're not authentic.' And at that point I knew it might cost me politically but I needed to ... make a decision I could be proud of."

So, those of you who think there aren't people of courage in politics, think again. For one shining moment in Kentucky, a man of real courage and conviction stood up against hatred and discrimination no matter what the political costs.

Take a minute and savor his courage because it just doesn't happen as often as it should in American politics.


Alan Cumming Acquires WWII Drama Written by Longtime Activist David Mixner and Rich Burns

Alan Cumming has acquired a script written by longtime activist and Towleroad columnist David Mixner and screenwriter Rich Burns, according to The Hollywood Reporter:

CummingCumming currently co-stars on TV's The Good Wife (for which he has garnered two Emmy nominations) and has done voice work in the recent Smurfs movies.

He, along with Geller, recently acquired the spec Dunes of Overveen, the true life story of Willem Arondeus and the bloody underground uprising of artists in Amsterdam during WWII against occupying Nazi forces. It was written by Rich Burns and David Mixner, a civil rights activist and best-selling author.

We'll look forward to seeing this come to life!


David Mixner: Reflections From An Intensive Care Unit

BY DAVID MIXNER

ICUAs many of you know, recently I went through another tough patch with my health. For near a dozen days I was in an Intensive Care Unit in New York City in critical condition. This latest was a rough one and the most challenging emotionally, spiritually and physically of my life. The pain was extraordinary, the odds were uphill and my body and soul were just plain tired.

One night in the darkness of the unit, I looked through dozens of tubes and lights next to my bed into the snowy sky over the East River. Ironically the silhouetted tubes seem like tree branches and the lights like stars as the beauty of the snow laid beyond them. Without any dramatic Bette Davis moment, a strange peace had overcome the pain and I reflected on the choice of fighting to live — or perhaps it was time to let go and begin another remarkable adventure.

After all, I have given 54 years of my exciting life to serving others and working for justice, freedom and equality. One of my heroes is the martyred liberationist theologist Archbishop Oscar Romero. That night in intensive care a favorite quote from the Archbishop came to mind:

"Beautiful is the moment in which we understand that we are no more than an instrument of God; we live only as long as God wants us to live; we can only do as much as God makes us able to do; we are only as intelligent as God would have us be.”

Years ago I had learned that each and everyone of us is dispensable, that history will record little of our journey and that thankfully there are thousands behind us equally equipped to lift the banner of freedom and justice. For me, the concept of moving on is not one of sadness or unfinished work but just part of the process of completing this part of the journey.

That night in ICU, as the clanging of bells and whistles demanded the attention of a nurse to replace one of the dozens of bags hanging next to my bed, I knew that the choice was mine. I could move on and embark on a totally new adventure or choose to continue to fight here. Not because I was desperately needed but because just maybe a decision to live to fight for freedom might, just might, inspire a couple more young people in these urgent times to join this epic struggle for freedom and justice.

As is usually the case, the next day provided my answer.

Each morning my friend Gary Belis brought in a ton of newspapers to keep me informed. Being impacted heavily by the enormous number of medications, Gary would thoughtfully find the most important stories and made sure they were read to me or highlighted so I wouldn't miss them.

That morning the papers were full of people embracing God to hide their hate including President Putin in Russia, President Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria, and Governor Brownback in Kansas. LGBT citizens were being dragged out of their homes in Nigeria, fleeing the coming oppression in Uganda and being rounded up in Russia. Even the brutal Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych found time to condemn homosexuality as he killed his own people.

Gary had made sure I saw the new tactic by the authoritarian right in America to allow anyone to discriminate against LGBT Americans simply by proclaiming it was their religious belief and God's will. The proposed (and eventual passage of) legislation in Arizona quickly reminded me of the segregation of my childhood. Our churches would hold our picnics at 'private lakes' which charged 25 cents so that they could keep out the blacks who used the State Park just down the road.

After all, it was God's will not to mix the races and shouldn't white Americans have the freedom to hate, discriminate and separate because of their personal religious beliefs?

Let's be honest. Arizona's law is not about religious freedom either. It is simply a new tactic so those who hate LGBT Americans can continue to wear white sheets and hide behind a deity to practice that hate.

20140222_134027Later in the day, I was visited by Father Michael who listened carefully as I asked if it was time to 'let go'. That brilliant conversation and a later one with my sister, Patsy, provided the answer to my pressing question.

I wanted to fight to live.

Why?

Every tyrant, every person filled with hate, every oppressor of LGBT citizens and every person who would make God a person of hate must know that each and every one of us who care about our freedom will fight to literally our dying breath to defeat them. No matter where they are located, how much power they have and what brutality they used against us, they can not defeat us simply because our determination to breath the air of freedom will bring us victory.

If I seriously believed that, then I have to live it.

The choice was clear and I have to continue with the battle until I can't lift my head any longer. Not because I am special or indispensable but because I am one of you and each and everyone one of us is needed. By continuing to embrace life, I am one more voice that refuses to be silenced until our children can live in total freedom.

After all Archbishop Romero believed that sin was simply to do nothing in the face injustice, war and poverty. My 'fellow travelers' in life always have been those who believe the Archbishop's words:

Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous,
tranquil contribution of all
to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.

That day I made my decision to fight on no matter how hard the obstacles, or what was required of me.

What about you? What is your decision?


Hey Coach Jason Kreis! New York Wants A Gay Soccer Player!

Jason_kreisBY DAVID MIXNER

By 2015, New York City will have a new major league soccer team owned by the famous Manchester City. This will be the second in the area with the New Jersey Bulls playing in Harrison, New Jersey. In an announcement this month, the New York City FC presented Jason Kreis (right) as the new coach for the franchise. Now the process of picking the players and ironing out the logistics of where the team will play in NYC.

Kreis has an incredible opportunity to break the glass ceiling here in New York City. The Big Apple has never had an openly gay player in any of its major male sports franchises. While the Los Angeles Galaxy has snapped up out athlete Robbie Rogers and former World Cup German player Thomas Hitzlsperger (below) recently came out of the closet, the time has come for Major League Soccer to embrace the momentum and show the rest of the leagues the way.

T_hitzlspergerOne can't help but wonder what would happen to Hitzlsperger if he was still playing. After the Russians host the Olympics, they will be hosting the World Cup in 2018 and that will be followed by one in Qatar.

In a Guardian/Observer editorial after the German player's coming out, the paper stated:

Now, everyone agrees that a footballer's sexuality should not be a big deal in 2014, but FIFA's response still felt a little casual. Enthusiastically backing Hitzlsperger seemed like an open goal for the organisation, particularly with its recent patchy record on gay rights. The 2018 World Cup will be held in Russia, which has introduced laws to ban gay "propaganda"; four years later, the tournament moves to Qatar, where homosexuality is still punished with a prison sentence.

There is genuine speculation that players and spectators will be vetted by a Kuwaiti-engineered "gay test" in 2022. When Sepp Blatter, the Clouseau-esque president of Fifa, was asked in 2010 about the issue, he smiled and suggested that homosexual football fans would just have to "refrain from sexual activity" in Qatar. Pushed further last June, he deflected: "What you are speaking about… this is going into ethics and morals." But venturing into these thorny areas is exactly what Fifa should be doing. After years of punishing racism with ineffectual fines, Blatter recently suggested he would be getting tough: deducting points from clubs, eliminating them from competitions. Why should homophobia be any different?

KreisThe Wall Street Journal reports on the new franchise in New York City:

"As he goes about building his first NYCFC side, Kreis will have the enviable resources of Manchester City at his disposal, including a 36-strong scouting team—14 of whom are, significantly, in South America—and the option to loan players from the Manchester City development system. But he will still need all of his powers of good housekeeping as he negotiates the MLS salary cap and a rule book that forces a competitive parity his new bosses are unfamiliar with."

The time has come for New York City to get ahead of the game! With a 36 member scouting team, surely New York City FC should be able to find one great gay soccer player. Really, it can't be that difficult. Coach Kreis has not only the opportunity to make history in New York City but to build a powerful new fan base for his club.

For heaven's sake, don't make New Yorkers go to the stadium and cheer Los Angeles Galaxy because we have no openly gay soccer player in New York. Can you imagine, Sir, how hard that will be for us?

Do the right thing from day one of this club and find a top notch openly gay player that will lead our team to victory, fill the stands with new fans and make all New Yorkers proud to wear that player's jersey.

Watch the press conference announcing Kreis as coach, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Hey Coach Jason Kreis! New York Wants A Gay Soccer Player!" »


Gay NFL Star Jerry Smith's Career Examined in Groundbreaking Broadcast

Smith

BY DAVID MIXNER

National Football League Network Senior Producer Paul Monusky was asked to do a short five minute film on former Washington Redskins star Jerry Smith.

Jerry_SmithThe record setting football star was closeted his entire football career and died of AIDS on October 15, 1986. When Monusky ran into former teammates Chris Hanburger and Bobby Mitchell who sang Smith's praises, his playing ability and said everyone on the team 'sort of knew' that Smith was gay, Monusky realized that this was more than a five minute story.

As a result, this Tuesday night (January 21), NFL Network's "A Football Life"will air an historical hour on former Washington Redskin Jerry Smith. The show will air at 9PM EST and will be repeated throughout the week on the channel.

After the show, Jenn Brown will host "A Football Life: Backstory" which will delve deeper into Smith's life. Joining her will be Smith's former Redskins teammates Brigg Owens and Calvin Hill. In addition, I personally will be a guest.

Monusky, in an exclusive interview with Towleroad.com, said, "This show is a first and is unlike anything we have done on the NFL Network. The show, without a doubt, is a groundbreaker."

Jerry Smith was a giant among football players.

NFL Films describes Smith for the upcoming special.

Almost 50 years ago, a young tight end named Jerry Smith joined the Washington Redskins. After 13 seasons on the team, Smith retired, but not before making two Pro Bowls, one All-Pro team, and playing in a Super Bowl. He set an NFL record with 60 receiving touchdowns, the most ever by a tight end (that record stood for 26 years). Smith was also gay, something that most of his teammates knew, but didn’t care about.

We interviewed 11 of Smith’s former teammates, plus other media members and family. In this film, we will explore how Jerry Smith’s sexuality was a constant source of fear for him, and how today it is not a concern for his teammates, who respected Jerry because of the person he was and what he could do on the field.

Smith,Jerry7

When Monusky was asked in our interview what he learned most from producing this show on Smith, he said:

"Would have to say that the issue with an openly gay player is not so much with the teammates as it is with others. All the teammates care about is if you are an excellent player and will help them win."

Monusky continued:

"The biggest surprise for me was learning the amount of fear that Jerry lived with every day of his life. I don't think he would have been allowed to play or he would have resigned from the team if he had come out."

While the Senior Producer would never tell someone playing the NFL League today that they had to come out, he believes it will happen in the next year or two. He believes the reaction would depend on both how good a player he is on the field, and his personality off the field.

"It would have to be a Jackie Robinson type person who could thrive on the field while dealing with such intense pressure from the outside."

Personally having known Jerry Smith when he played for the Washington Redskins, I can only hope this historical broadcast will open up the doors to the Football Hall of Fame where he belongs among the other giants of Pro Football.

You can watch the trailer for the film by simply clicking here.

 


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