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Walloping Janet Napolitano for Her Prop 102 Stance, The Word-Wrangling Wren Looks to Harvey Milk for Inspiration

Harvey Milk (left), profile in courage, and Governor Janet Napolitano, profile in cowardice.
www.livingincinema.com, Napolitano by Michael Ratcliff

BENEDICT NAPOLITANO

This nutty nightingale was tooling down the road the other day in his fabulous Thunderbird, scanning the FM dial, when the knob alighted on KJZZ 91.5-FM — you know, the NPR station. There, this warbler heard our soon-to-be-ex-Governor Janet Napolitano on the talk show Here and Now.

It was one of her regular visits to the program, to which folks either call or e-mail their questions for Arizona's top pol. One guy asked why Nappy had been so "passive" on Prop 102, the gay-marriage ban that Arizonans voted 56 percent to 44 percent to add to the state Constitution.

"No, no, I opposed it," insisted Janet, weakly. "I've opposed it on the grounds that we have a statute, the courts have upheld the statute, and that we shouldn't be amending the Constitution prophylactically. So, no, I was opposed to it, and said so publicly many times."

Why, this tweeter nearly spewed a mouthful of seed. Not only has that got to have been the first time Nappy's ever used a prophylactic in her entire life (and only as an adverb, if you get this gander's drift), her statement was also insidiously misleading.

Nappy emitted barely a peep during the election cycle about Prop 102, an egregiously obvious piece of gay-bashing tripe. And her slim case against it, as she laid it down briefly on Here and Now, sucked, too.

The fact that there was already a bigoted statute defining marriage as a union between a male and a female (and that it had been upheld by the appellate courts) was no great argument against the proposition, which sought to pour legal concrete over that definition. No wonder the governor never trumpeted her lame stance loudly.

Contrast Napolitano's position with that of California Governor Arnold Schwarz­enegger, who, despite having opposed gay marriage in the past, spoke out against Prop 8, California's gay-marriage ban, both before and after its passage by a narrow 52 to 48 percent.

Schwarzenegger compared the issue to a 1948 California Supreme Court ruling overturning a ban on blacks and whites marrying. And The Governator stated that he believed Prop 8 would be overturned by California's high court.

He also reassured the estimated 18,000 gay couples who had gotten married in California since June, after the court there ruled a ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, that the passage of Prop 8 would not affect the legal standing of their unions.

Finally, Ah-nold had some goofy but endearing words of hope for the gay community, which had just suffered a bitter defeat. He compared their struggle to his in his bodybuilding days. When he found a weight too heavy, he tried to lift it over and over, until he finally succeeded.

"I learned that you should never, ever give up," he told CNN reporter John King in the interview, saying of gays and lesbians, "They should never give up. They should be on it and on it until they get it done."

Schwarzenegger is a Republican, remember? Albeit, a California Republican. And the guy's about as heterosexual as you can get.

Napolitano, however, is nominally a Democrat — the party that's traditionally been friendly to gays. Napolitano's also widely regarded as a closeted lesbian, though she has denied being gay in the past.

In fact, this feathered fiend asked Nappy during a 2006 press conference whether her stance on gay marriage was hypocritical, considering the assumption by many that she's secretly gay.

She responded, "No, and I'm offended by that question." Offended? Why? Would there be anything wrong with being gay? Well, there might be something wrong with it if you were hiding it, while publicly opposing gay marriage, and saying that marriage should be only between a man and a woman, as Nappy opined previously.

If Napolitano's a lez, then she's the Benedict Arnold of gay America. But even if she isn't, she's a piss-poor excuse for a Democrat, and she has let gays down with her muted stance on what should be seen as a civil rights issue. If gay rights icon Harvey Milk were around, he'd probably land Nappy a heel right in her tush.

Of course, he might be landing one on Ah-nold's hiney, too. The California Governor vetoed a bill authorizing a Harvey Milk Day earlier this year. Nevertheless, Schwarzenegger's statements have made up for some of his previous errors in judgment. No one's perfect, but he's a damn sight better than Nappy's been on a similar proposition.

HARVEY KNEW BEST

Admittedly, this cock's got Harvey Milk on the brain, after seeing him portrayed so brilliantly by Sean Penn in Gus Van Sant's Oscar-bait flick Milk. Though The Bird had seen Robert Epstein's seminal 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, and had long ago read The Mayor of Castro Street, Randy Shilts' bio of the first openly gay man elected to public office, there were goosebumps on this clucker's wings as he watched Penn in the role.

 

From camera-store owner and community organizer to member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (which is what San Fran calls its city council), and ultimately, martyr, Milk embodied the triumph of can-do idealism over the chicanery and cowardly compromise of everyday politics. Though Milk kept his homosexuality on the down-low for much of his existence, he eventually chucked his life of furtive gayness in NYC for the far freer lifestyle of an openly gay man in San Francisco.

As those familiar with the story know, Milk was gunned down in 1978 by embittered ex-San Francisco Supervisor Dan White, who also assassinated San Francisco Mayor George Moscone the same day. But Milk achieved two very significant victories in his brief political career: the passage of a civil rights bill for gays in San Francisco, and the defeat of California's Proposition 6, sponsored by conservative state legislator John Briggs, an ally of gay-hater extraordinaire Anita Bryant. The proposition would have prohibited gays and their supporters from working in the California public school system.

If this is starting to sound like déjà vu all over again, you got that right in more ways than one. The campaign against California's Prop 6 in the late '70s could've taken one of two roads, as was depicted in the film, with Milk meeting with high-powered politicos who urged him to soft-pedal the gay rights aspect of the "No on 6" message. Instead, Milk led the way in confronting the issue, and Briggs, head on.

Indeed, in a famous speech given during a gay pride march that year, Milk encouraged his fellow gays to come out of the closet.

"We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions," he told the assembled, adding, "I'm tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I'm going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out."

Milk believed that if the straight population knew that gays were their sons, daughters, and neighbors, then it would be more difficult to deny them their rights. He debated Briggs over the issue of gay teachers in schools, tussling with the conservative lawmaker over icky subjects such as pedophilia and child molestation. Victory was hardly assured. Yet, the honesty of Milk's tactics paid off, and the Briggs Initiative went down to defeat.

But why didn't the well-funded "No on 8" campaign win this year? Why did bigotry triumph in such a left-leaning state?

Columnist Sherry Wolf, in a piece that appeared on the liberal opinion Web site AlterNet.org, pointed out severe flaws with strategy and message. She especially faults the "No on 8" people for not using their money to develop a grassroots organizing campaign.

"[The 'No on 8' effort] didn't put out a call for activists to hit the phones, knock on doors, and hold rallies to publicly denounce the bigotry of the measure," notes Wolf. "Though, in a few cases, activists took the initiative to do so on their own."

In Wolf's view, "No on 8" shirked its most powerful argument — that Prop 8 was motivated by prejudice and fear. She observes, "The heads of the 'No on 8' campaign avoided even using words like 'gay' or 'bigoted.'" And they waited 'til the last minute, says Wolf, to run an ad voiced over by Samuel L. Jackson, comparing Prop 8 to "past civil rights abuses, like Japanese internment and anti-miscegenation laws."

"No on 8" ran away from the real purpose of the prop: denying gays the same marriage rights as straights. But the "Yes on 8" campaign, funded heavily by the religious right and the Mormon Church, ran toward that issue. Unapologetically, they preached the one-man, one-woman gospel. As with the "Yes on 102" effort here in Arizona, "Yes on 8" claimed for itself the "pro-marriage" stance, defining its opposition as "anti-marriage" by default.

Watching Milk is instructive because the gay supervisor's winning tactic 30 years ago was far more forthright. Sure, it was a different time. But eerily, many of the motivations of those involved then and now have remained the same.

ANNIE ON OFFENSE

In the wake of the passage of Prop 102 in Arizona, Phoenix activist Annie Loyd has helped organize several successful demonstrations in reaction to the anti-gay prop.

First, there was a march on November 15 that drew thousands in downtown Phoenix. Then a 1,000-person demo in Glendale, which was initially organized to counter a planned protest by Kansas gay-hater Fred Phelps' virulently homophobic Westboro Baptist Church but turned into a sort of pro-gay marriage, gay rights love-in when WBC didn't show. And, finally, a candlelight vigil across from the Mormon Arizona Temple in Mesa, on the night the temple's popular Christmas light display opened.

 

"Today is a new day," Loyd told The Bird recently. "It's about the people, not the politicians."

Loyd, who heads a group called Be a H.E.R.O. (H.E.R.O. stands for "Human and Equal Rights Organizer") and is herself openly gay, kvetched that the "No on 102" message was uninspiring. Prior to November 4, she recalled driving past sign after sign urging voters to vote "yes" on 102 and "for" marriage.

"I have a good friend who said that's like driving down to the South in Selma, Alabama, 40 years ago, looking at signs that said 'White only,'" remarked Loyd. "Where's the outrage?"

The "No on 102" campaign, led in large part by state Representative Kyrsten Sinema's group Arizona Together, had two main arguments, neither of which addressed the issue from a civil rights perspective. The first was that voters had already rejected a similar amendment in 2006 (a victory, in part, due to Sinema's efforts, then), and so this vote was a waste of time. The second was that same-sex marriage was already forbidden by Arizona law, and that law had been upheld by the courts.

Sinema informed this egret that these were the messages that polled best, which is why they were used heavily in the "No on 102" campaign. She stated that the "Yes on 102" camp outspent them, about $8 million to her group's about $600,000, according to her. And that's the reason her side lost. She was particularly dismissive of those who were protesting after the fact.

"If they're so pissed off, what did they do to stop it?" asked Sinema. "That would be my question for those individuals."

For Sinema, who is openly bisexual, the passage of the constitutional amendment was a mere redundancy, as Arizona's law barring gay marriage had already been challenged and upheld as constitutional by the state appellate court in 2003. In 2004, the state Supreme Court refused to review the lower court's ruling.

However, the Arizona Supreme Court's spokeswoman, Cari Gerchick, confirmed that the law could have been challenged again, hypothetically.

"Someone could have filed a request [for review] prior to the constitutional amendment," said Gerchick. "The Arizona Supreme Court could have disagreed with the Court of Appeals' decision."

But now that Prop 102 has passed, the only way to undo it would be with another constitutional amendment. So the passage of Prop 102 was more than symbolic.

Thing is, the Arizona Supreme Court is drastically different now from what it was in 2004. At that time, Charles E. Jones, a prominent Mormon, was chief justice. He has since retired, leaving new Chief Justice Ruth McGregor in charge. Could this and other new blood on the state Supreme Court have made a difference if the statute had been challenged again? We'll never know.

But even if Sinema is right, and the passage of the amendment "didn't change anything," then why bother to fight it? Sinema said it's because she and other "No on 102ers" knew the prop was a ploy to get ideological conservatives to the polls, and that the "No on 102" crowd wanted to "mitigate" that effect, to help Democrats.

"We wanted to make it as difficult as possible for [the other side] to get out their ideological voters to vote in these local and state elections," Sinema said.

In a red state like Arizona, the "No on Prop 102" effort may have been doomed from jump. But one thing's for certain, you don't win campaigns that you don't set out to win. The law of the ideological jungle is that you have to counter an argument with a better, more powerful one. Harvey Milk definitely knew that. And The Bird reckons that Annie Loyd does, too.


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