Gays in School

Both the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times published articles about gay issues in public (government) schools last Friday (Feb. 20). If that isn't a sign from the empyrean that I should write about that, I don't know what one would look like.

The Tribune story was about gay students at a high school in suburban Lincolnwood holding a "high kitsch" mixer for gay students but open to all students at area schools.

There are the predictable objections from the anti-gay sector. For instance, schools shouldn't take sides in the culture wars by sponsoring gay events. But it is, after all, the students who are sponsoring the event; the school is merely allowing it. Then too, schools have long been taking sides in the culture wars by sponsoring a heterosexual institution. It's called "high school."

Social conservatives also object that schools can shield students from discrimination without mixers and dances. But this the schools utterly fail to do. Ask any out-of-the-closet gay or lesbian student if they were shielded.

The New York Times story was about a school in conservative Orange County, California, that was going to put on a toned-down version of the Broadway show "Rent." But the principal objected to the presence of two gay characters and a prostitute in the show.

Her position was that a high school show should be appropriate for people of all ages, including children. But one would think it mainly needed to be appropriate for high school students, a pretty worldly group, you'd think, what with the Internet, easy access to porn, and-for goodness sake-television.

The principal's second objection was that "Rent" could offend school alumni and others who come back to see the Broadway shows each year. So maybe it is those older adults that she had in mind when she referred to "people of all ages." But you would think a simple warning sign about "controversial content" would handle the difficulty adequately. No such luck. And there have been similar objections in other cities.

Obviously we would all like to help gay and lesbian high school students and help promote just a bit of openness and acceptance. What could help this along?

More gay parents and parents of gay students need to come out and be actively supportive.

Those parents need to consider running for school board. Principals are responsible to the school boards that hired them, so gay-supportive school boards are an important pressure point. Remember that the Religious Right urges parents to run for school board to promote their issues such as creationism, sex-less education, and opposition to gays.

More gay teachers need to come out and be supportive, so long as they have tenure and a supportive unions.

More heterosexual high school students need to be organized as supportive, which is why Gay/Straight Alliances are so important to have in more schools. They provide a way to do that safely.

Gay-supportive community leaders and clergy need to step forward to be more vocal on behalf of gay students-attending mixers, dances and controversial plays, and speaking out in public.

Here in Chicago, a new wild card has been thrown into the mix with Mayor Richard M. Daley's appointment of his former Chief of Staff and Chicago Transit Authority head Ron Huberman to be head of the school system. Huberman is gay and has publicly disclosed that fact in print.

Huberman is a Daley loyalist and will have his hands full trying to improve Chicago's dismal public schools, so he probably will not make any bold initiatives on gay issues. But the very fact that he is gay and holds the position he does may provide encouragement at the level of local school operations.

Exploring Gay Businesses

I am something of a fan of gay-owned businesses. I myself don't have much of the entrepreneurial spirit, but I admire it in others and am delighted when they make a success of it.

As I explained in a recent article, gay businesses not only serve the gay community and their neighborhood, they also help to anchor the community geographically. Their owners tend to recycle their income through the gay community and they bring non-gay patrons and their money into the process. Often too they provide employment for area gays and lesbians.

I should add that a consumer's first concern should be to patronize businesses that provide the best products and services at the best prices. Not attracting patronage is the market's signal to a business to shape up. But other things being equal, without being the least bit anti-heterosexual, I encourage gays to patronize gay-owned businesses when they can and when the businesses offer products and services at least as good as other businesses.

I've done a few pieces on area gay-owned businesses in the past (a bookstore, an art gallelry), so when my editor asked me to write more about gay small businesses, I welcomed the opportunity to learn more about gay businesses: how they started, how they grew, the problems they encounter, etc.

After doing a couple of such pieces (e.g., on a candy-store), it is already clear to me that it is more complicated than I realized. Maybe most people think you decide to open a business, do so, and you're on your way. It's far from being that straightforward. A would-be entrepreneur has to scour the neighborhood to check for other businesses that would draw people to the area, check the density of street traffic that could provide "walk-in" business, look for similar competing stores nearby, check rents to see if they are affordable, and consider if advertising is desirable or necessary and whether local media are affordable.

One business owner told me that he had planned on opening one kind of store, but then saw that a similar store was planning to open up just a few doors away. So he switched to Plan B-a different kind of store. Another gay shop owner was able to find and afford only a second-floor space-a definite disadvantage for any business that hopes for appealing window displays or walk-in traffic.

A high density of similar businesses is not always a disadvantage, however. Bars and nightclubs tend to welcome nearby bars since a larger number of bars draws people to the area and many patrons wander from bar to bar. Probably there is a maximum density of gay bars, but I don't know what that is. Maybe I'll learn.

If gay businesses are selling a product, they have to find out what wholesalers supply the products they want in sufficient quantities, at affordable prices, and in a timely fashion. Unabridged Books, for instance, can replace any books that are selling well and get them within a day or two. The system is called JIT-Just In Time supplying. It means that any store does not have to maintain a huge stock of potentially popular titles. Other businesses may use something similar. I'll find out.

Not every gay-owned business manages to survive. A cheese shop and a gay-owned store selling a variety of coffees opened up in the area. The coffee store closed after barely a year while the cheese shop seems to be doing fine. That is the opposite of what I would have expected. So reading the market and the neighborhood can be more complicated than I realized.

Two gay-owned art galleries opened near each other. One seems to be doing fine. The other moved away, the owner claiming that the area was a poor one for art. To be sure, the kinds of art they were offering differed significantly, and the price range was considerably different, but still ... the differing market responses is an important piece of information.

The quality, knowledgeability, and friendliness of the staff are important variables too. Some gay-owned businesses have staff people who welcome you and ask if they can help you find anything in particular or if you would prefer to just look around. At the other extreme, I visited a gay-owned business (not one of those mentioned here) recently, but during five minutes of my poking around, no one asked me if they could help me find anything. Does the owner know about this? I don't know if I'll go back. Does the owner care about that?

As I pursue this project I'll try to report back to readers what I learn, either explicitly or between the lines. Let me know if there are questions you'd like to see answered.

Harassment? Or Politics?

The latest political struggle in California is over whether the names of contributors to the campaign to bar gay marriage should be publicly disclosed.

Current California law, approved by the voters in 1974, mandates that all political contributions of $100 or more must be reported to the state government along with the contributor's address, occupation and other information. But attorneys for the anti-gay marriage side have filed suit in federal district court to have the information not already revealed to be shielded from public view.

Right at the start, there is something odd about this. You would think that stalwart self-righteous defenders of exclusively opposite-sex marriage-that Core Institution of Western Civilization, etc., etc.,-would be proud to be publicly identified as among its supporters.

Apparently not. The lawsuit claims that supporters have been plagued with a variety of harassment behavior. Among the items listed are harassing phone calls and e-mails, death threats, physical violence, destruction of private property, boycotts, mailed envelopes containing a "suspicious" white powder, and otherwise unspecified "domestic terrorism." In addition, "No on 8" supporters have created convenient Google maps with arrows pointing to where "Protect Marriage" contributors live and work.

But from what anyone can learn from published reports, these incidents are extremely rare-which is surprising given the passions the issue engendered. Destruction of property? A few churches were spray-painted with "No on 8" graffiti and one person had a window broken. Physical violence? Apparently, a few counter-protesters at "No on 8" demonstrations were hit. But, frankly, that's a risk you take as a counter-protester. Harassing telephone calls? Get Caller ID and report the threats to the police.

A "suspicious" white powder sent to a church and a Knights of Columbus office? As if you can just walk down to the corner drugstore and buy a box of anthrax? And we might ask, How well documented are these incidents? At most, they sound like a law enforcement matter, not a free speech matter. Were they reported to the police? There is no information to that effect.

James Bopp, Jr., an attorney representing "Protect Marriage," said, "The highest value in the First Amendment is free speech and some amorphous idea about transparency cannot be used to subvert those rights." No doubt the Constitution guarantees speech to be free of government interference. But free speech applies to our side too. Nothing in the Constitution mentions that it is without social, economic or political consequences.

All of one woman was "threatened" by a man who said if he had a gun he would shoot Prop 8 supporters. That doesn't sound very threatening: He didn't have a gun. Boycotts? The business where one supporter worked was subject to a gay boycott. But boycotts are entirely legal and a legitimate means of protest. Why should I support a business whose owner's or employees' paychecks are used to oppose my legal rights? One man said a flier was distributed calling him a bigot. But he had published advertisements calling gays a menace. That's free speech too, but when he was the target of free speech was he unhappy.

And there are lot of means of political participation that don't get you reported. Go door to door passing out fliers or do it at distant shopping malls. Help staff a phone bank. If you want to make a monetary contribution, give cash to a friend to include in his check to Yes on 8. What happened to political participation? Are these people really clueless as well as timid?

In many ways these people seem like political naifs, knowing little about the ways of the world. They seem unaware that "free speech" and political participation can have negative consequences. As a gay man involved in writing and speaking on behalf of gay equality over the last 35 years, I have received threatening telephone calls ("We're going to cut off your balls." Gratifyingly, that caller was arrested.) Another caller told me I was a sinner, a bad person, etc. I thanked the caller for sharing his view with me.

I have received letters calling me a snake and telling me to crawl back under the rock I came out from under. I have had a window broken by men yelling "faggot." I have had beer cans thrown at me from a passing car. This is just part of politics. As an old Chicago writer once sagely observed, "Politics ain't beanbag."

A hundred dollars doesn't buy as much these days as it did in 1974. If someone wants to raise the nondisclosure level to $200 I would not object. But I would oppose further nondisclosure. People need to take responsibility for their public behavior-and political contributions are definitely public behavior.

A Map of Evangelical Paranoia

Barely two weeks before the November 4 election, the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family posted a long "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America," purporting to describe changes wrought by a President Obama, should he be elected-what a conservative Christian would call a "worst-case scenario."

As with many worst-case scenarios, the Letter projects some plausible events and then extrapolates trends from them, reaching far into the realm of fantasy. The Letter necessarily ignores political and popular resistance to any such changes and the inevitable compromises necessary to bring about the changes.

But the Letter is useful as a compendium of issues the Religious Right is focused on, from maintaining Christian special privileges to opposing moves toward gay and lesbian equality, from opposing sex education, birth control and abortion to outlawing pornography. Surprisingly, there is little about such "family" issues as easy divorce and domestic violence.

The Letter begins by implausibly postulating a sea change on the Supreme Court. Not only do liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens retire and are replaced by "ACLU-oriented" liberals. But then Justice Anthony Kennedy and shortly thereafter Justice Antonin Scalia retire, allowing Obama to create a solid 6-3 liberal majority on the court. This supposedly removes any Supreme Court opposition to the changes that follow.

But this all assumes that Obama would not take into account possible congressional opposition to far-left justices and appoint more moderate liberals. It also implausibly assumes for many of the changes that "ACLU-oriented" liberals run roughshod over First Amendment protections for speech and religious observance.

According to the Letter, same-sex marriage was determined to be a constitutional shortly after Scalia and Kennedy's departure. But not only has marriage always been a state matter, it is unlikely that the court would move on something so controversial until there is much greater popular support for the decision and (as with its sodomy decision) a significant majority of states have allowed gay marriage.

Shortly thereafter the court ruled that the Boy Scouts had to allow gay Scoutmasters, which led the Boy Scouts to disband rather than allow gay Scout leaders to sleep in the same tents with young Scouts. We see here openly expressed the religious conservative fears about gay child molestation and recruitment-or at least the Letter's willingness to play to those fears. It is their obsession, their idée fixe.

Schools were required to include instruction about varieties of sexual and gender expression beginning in first grade. This led to the resignation or firing of thousands of evangelical teachers who refused to teach about something they regarded as morally wrong. Here the idea is not-so-subtly insinuated that learning about something makes children find it attractive and want to try it, another notion dear to the anti-gay propagandists.

Catholic and evangelical adoption agencies were required to stop discriminating against same-sex couples as adopters, leading many of those agencies to close rather than place children with "immoral" parents. Here the obsession is with the canard that role models influence children's sexual orientation, the third great anti-gay myth. The Letter cites no evidence to support its implications.

President Obama himself reversed the exclusion of openly gay people from the military. But this is absurd. The Letter writer seems unaware that the exclusion of open gays is a law passed by Congress and would have to be repealed by Congress. In fact, the Obama administration plans to work for this, but not in the near term.

There is much more anti-gay material in this long pre-election Letter-sections opposing the outlawing of anti-gay hate speech including religious speech in churches quoting the bible, the outlawing of discrimination against lesbians for artificial insemination services, the requirement that churches allow gay couples to use their facilities for weddings, the loss of licenses by counselors who refuse positive counseling for gay and lesbian couples, etc.

There are other issues too, dealing with removal of restrictions on abortion and pornography, banning the church use of public (government) school facilities, and removal of the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, etc. But the lead part of the Letter and more than one-third of the items relate to homosexuality and homosexuals.

(Fans of the Christian numerological tradition will note that the first 12 items (counting the unnumbered same-sex marriage item) and the 33rd paragraph all deal with homosexuals. Both numbers are important for certain Christians.)

Think National, but Act Local

A recent article in The New York Times emphasized the relative youth or newness to activism of many of the planners and participants in the demonstrations for same-sex marriage that have occurred since the passage of Proposition 8 in California.

Why did California precipitate so much activism while passage of those 32 state bans on gay marriage generated little except disappointment? I think the answer is fairly simple.

Most importantly, because Proposition 8 took away a civil right (that is, a right vis-a-vis the state) that had been granted by the state Supreme Court just a few months earlier. But also: because: California is by far the most populous state in the Union and what happens there holds significance for the rest of the country; because Prop 8 called into doubt the legality of those 18,000 or so same-sex marriages that had already been performed, including many from out of state; because pre-election polls had held out hope that Prop 8 would be defeated, so its narrow passage came as a shock and an insult; because Prop 8 was petty in that gay marriage provably was causing no harm to heterosexual marriage or society at large; and, finally, because it was seen to be a religious intrusion into civic affairs since Mormons, mostly from out of state, contributed half of the funds used to help passage of Prop 8.

Protest demonstrations suddenly occurred across California, followed by many smaller sympathetic demonstrations in other large cities, largely organized by technologically adept young people using new Web sites, social networking sites and other tools of the Internet. The Times quoted one 26-year-old woman who works at a search-engine marketing firm as saying, "I'm good at driving traffic to Web sites. That's what I do."

So the young people are bringing new life, new ideas, and a more rapid responsiveness to the gay movement. And, what continually surprises many of us who are older, they are finding substantial support from young heterosexuals who seem to see gay rights as their generation's big civil rights issue. It is, but we never received that kind of visible support before, and while it is most welcome it feels, well, a bit odd.

Now venerable activist Robin Tyler has trotted out the tired and hackneyed idea of a National March on Washington, which would be, if I count correctly, the fifth. But national marches haven't really accomplished much, and the last one lost money and created a good deal of ill will by stiffing its vendors. Not a good precedent.

Besides, marriage is a state issue, not one primarily determined by the federal government. So why protest to the federal government if you want to marry? And even though repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act is desirable, at this point it would affect only the residents of two states-Massachusetts and Connecticut, which offer same-sex marriage. It would be much more reasonable to hold off any national march until significantly more states allow gay marriage and the measure affects far more gays.

For a number of reasons, much better is the idea, now in the initial planning stages, of coordinated demonstrations at state capitals or major cities.

First, because more people will be able to be involved. Not everyone can take the time, and/or the time off from work to drive or carpool, or has the money to fly to Washington, particularly the young people who have been a mainstay of the recent demonstrations. California was a hotbed of activism in the last two months, but it is unlikely that most of the participants would be willing to travel 3,000 miles to some demonstration in Washington.

Then too, it seems particularly valuable to gear up activism in Southern and Great Plains states that are the least gay-friendly. A national march won't do much for them. But if they hold state marches, that would be new in a lot of places and encouraging to local activists. In addition, part of the point of demonstrations is to get gays (and our supporters) to meet one another and develop the kind of synergy that comes from scattered activist knowing one another and working together.

Local demonstrations would also give young activists a chance to contact their state legislators, probably for the first time, and make a case for gay marriage. It might well impress legislators that this is the way the wind is blowing among newer voters.

In truth, I have some doubts about the political effectiveness of demonstrations. But as a way of getting attention for your cause and garnering local press and television coverage, they cannot be beaten. And at this point, with a lot of older voters (and the legislators who cater to them) same-sex marriage still needs to prove that it can be a popular issue.

Mr. Claus’s Christmas Letter—2008

Mr. C. is incredibly busy right now with a last minute rush to finish all the toys, get the reindeer in shape for the long trip, make sure the sleigh is in proper repair and all. So he asked me if I would write our Christmas letter this year. Goodness knows I have my hands full making the fruitcakes and Christmas cookies, preparing the sweetmeats and candied fruits, but writing the Christmas letter is a welcome break. It is like having a nice chat over-the-backyard fence with all our friends at once.

Things went pretty well this year, all things considered. Our annual January vacation in Miami Beach was a delight. Mr. C mostly relaxed after the taxing Christmas Eve journey, lying in the sun and trying to get a suntan while I went shopping at some of those fancy boutiques. This year Mr. C bought one of those little bikini swim trunks which reveals some things I think I should be the only one to see, but Mr. C pointed out that a lot of other men were wearing them too. And he got me a lady's bikini to wear, but I'm not quite ready to try that.

The gay boys on the beach really cottoned to Mr. C. He was almost constantly surrounded by young men who said he was a "Daddy" type. Mr. C. loved the attention. One of the boys insisted that he wanted to come back north with us. So we let him, to see how he liked it. I put him to work in the kitchen helping with the cookies.

He turned out to have quite a knack for baking. He did all kinds of interesting things like adding a little nutmeg to this recipe, a little almond extract to that one, a quarter of a mashed banana here, a dash of ground cinnamon or a dollop of honey there. I'll have to confess that they certainly perked up the flavor of some of my old recipes. I asked him how he knew all this. It turned out his father had been a baker in some South American country, so he came by it naturally.

We had hoped to have a more relaxed pace of production during the spring, but as the signals started coming in about the economic downturn around the world, it became clear that parents weren't going to be able to buy all the toys they normally do, and we would have to make up the difference.

We tried bringing in a dozen or so "guest worker" elves from Germany, where most of them seem to live, but once they got here all they did was complain about the cold weather and the lack of that dark beer they drink all the time. "When does spring arrive," they kept asking, and Mr. C kept explaining, "It doesn't!" So finally we had to send them back and resolved to do it ourselves.

Along about August, some of the elves became interested in the battle down in the United States over gay marriage, particularly the campaign in California. The elves' gay caucus said they wanted to be able to marry too. So they called a big meeting to petition Mr. C. to institute gay marriage.

"But you're all men, er, male," said Mr. C. "And formal marriage has always been just for opposite sex partners-men and women. So I don't see how you can officially get married." "But why are we limited by tradition?" the spokes-elf asked "Well," Mr. C. replied, "marriage is essentially about reproduction-the fact that men and women have children. You all don't have children."

The spokes-elf didn't say a word. He just stared very hard at Mr. C. Then he looked over at me, then back at Mr. C. It was so quiet in the meeting hall you could hear a pin drop. I could hear the wheels turning in Mr. C's head. Finally he said quietly, "Oh." Then he held out his hand to me and I walked over and took it in mine. "Well," Mr. C. said, "I guess if Mrs. C and I are good enough for marriage, you all are too. Let's do it."

There was a big cheer from the assembled elves and I'll confess that I had a tear in my eye. Mr. C is sometimes a little slow on these social issues-his life is so wrapped up in toys-but he almost always comes to the right position eventually. The elves picked him up and carried him around on their little shoulders. And so another crisis was averted.

Well, the rest of the year went smoothly, if rather busily. And so I close, wishing you and yours a merry Christmas and the best from all of us.

Mr. and Mrs. S. Claus

Are Democrats Useless?

Although Barack Obama stated his opposition to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on open gays in the military, the Obama team has let it be known that it will not try to repeal the law during the next session of Congress.

And now there are reports that despite New York state Democrats' support for same-sex marriage, the state Senate will "probably" not take up the issue during the coming session.

Have gays been had? Maybe so.

A lot of gays contributed time and money to the Obama campaign, not only because Obama represented a welcome change from the dismal Bush administration, but because he espoused a number of gay-supportive positions, including repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

I can understand the Obama administration's desire not to make the same mistakes as the Clinton administration in 1993, when Clinton proceeded without taking account of the strong military opposition to the inclusion of gays such as Gen. Colin Powell's and congressional resistance as personified by Sen. Sam Nunn. You may remember Sen. Nunn's highly publicized visit to the "close quarters" of a submarine. The implication was obvious.

And I can even understand that there are more nationally pressing issues for Obama and the new Congress to deal with such as the state of the economy, the war in Iraq and the worsening situation in Afghanistan.

Then too, in 2006 and 2008 Rep. Rahm Emanuel helped create Democratic majorities by recruiting candidates who were "moderate" (and often socially conservative) Democrats to run in swing districts. He achieved his goal, but weakened the strength of Democratic support for gays.

But at some point, say within a year, I would want to see the administration form a working group or task force to develop a plan to gain military and congressional approval for repeal. It could include deployment of those 100-plus admirals and generals who recently signed a statement supporting gay inclusion, commissioning opinion polls on the issue in marginal districts, and targeting wavering members of Congress for serious lobbying and promises of pork. Without some real indication of administration intentions, I'd be inclined to think they aren't serious.

Turning to New York, The New York Times reported (Nov. 29) that "some" state Senate Democrats, who control the upper house for the first time in years-support delaying a vote on legalizing same-sex marriage until after the 2010 election-that is, until 2011 at the earliest.

"That would prevent Republicans from being able to use gay marriage as an issue against (Gov.) Paterson in socially conservative areas of the state or against Democratic Senate incumbents," the Times reported.

Maybe so, but a number of gays poured money into the campaigns of specific Democratic candidates with the aim of defeating anti-gay Republicans. What are they going to get for their money?

And why won't the same argument by Democratic leaders apply in 2011-that a positive vote on gay marriage would just give ammunition to their GOP opponents in the next election? This argument could be used in each subsequent year to justify avoiding a vote on same-sex marriage. It seems it is always jam tomorrow, but never jam today.

Further, without a popular Democrat like Obama at the head of the ticket in the 2010 election, the New York Senate Democrats might lose their narrow majority and the GOP could regain control. Then gays and pro-gay Democrats would have lost their opportunity to vote on (and maybe approve) same-sex marriage.

There is more than a whiff of a shell game in all their arguments.

I would not go so far as to say that the Democrats deliberately lie about their intentions on gay issues. But they certainly promise more than they can or know how to deliver and downplay the post-election difficulties of fulfilling their promises. And hearing their promises, gay "leaders" (most of whom are Democrats anyway) become excited and beat the drums for supporting the Democrats with money and get-out-the-vote efforts. Then they wind up with nothing. Strangely, they are never apologetic about all this.

None of this is to suggest that anyone need support Republicans instead. With but a handful of honorable exceptions, the GOP embrace of the Religious Right makes that implausible. But gays should be more selective about which candidates they support and sometimes vote for a minor party or not vote at all in a given race.

And we should demand specifics on how a given policy will be enacted, not just accept a general message of support. As Sam Goldwyn is alleged to have said, "A verbal contract is not worth the paper it's written on."

World AIDS Day: A Dissent

Let me tell you three stories.

First story. One of my best friends, a middle-age man with whom I worked on AIDS issues in the 1980s, sent me an e-mail several months ago saying that he had recently tested positive for HIV. He acknowledged that he was extremely embarrassed to be confessing this fact: The message we had all promoted then-as now-was to have only "safe sex" and to use "a condom every time." "I must have neglected to use a condom," he said simply.

Second story. I was at my local grocery store during the late summer when I ran into a casual friend I've known from the bars, a man somewhere in his late 40s, I'd guess, and we stopped to chat. He said he recently found out that he was HIV-positive, which he confessed surprised him. "I thought I was safe because I was exclusively a top," he said. "But apparently not." I gathered that he was already taking an antiviral combination, which suggested that his T-cell count was low, so he may have been infected some time ago.

Third story. A good friend, an older man, told me that early this fall he had his first HIV test in several years and was surprised to learn that he was HIV-positive. Not only that but his T-cell count had sunk to the 100-150 range, clearly qualifying for an AIDS diagnosis. "I did what I considered 'safe sex' and assumed I was uninfected. I never had any symptoms that I recognized as being HIV-related," he told me. "But then I noticed that I was getting tired easily and wanted to take naps throughout the day. I thought that was just a function of getting older, but evidently not."

These men are all Americans, fellow Chicagoans. And, most of all, friends. World AIDS Day will be observed on December 1. Do I care about AIDS among people I do not know and will never see or meet? Only marginally. What I do care about is gay men in the U.S., in my city, in my neighborhood. In short, I care about my friends, present and potential. Anyone who cares as much about total strangers in foreign lands as he does his friends and people in his own community has a strange idea about the value of personal relationships.

I lived through the first wave of AIDS, 1981-1996. I lost a lot of friends during that time. Suddenly it feels as if I am beginning to live through a second wave of AIDS infections-not necessarily resulting in deaths this time, at least in the medium term, but decisively altering people's lives.

When people's T-cell levels decline to a certain point, they have to begin an anti-viral drug regimen that involves taking one to four drugs every day at the same time every day. If they travel, they have to pack their drugs and make sure nothing interferes with their drug regimen. They have to do this for the rest of their lives. And some of the drugs have inconvenient side effects, from nausea or wooziness to diarrhea to unpleasant dreams. But taking the drugs is better than not taking them.

It seems vitally important to remind people that AIDS is still a threatening presence in the gay community. I have read estimates that 20 percent of those infected do not know it. I have seen no statistical support for that estimate and I am sure the number is far higher-40 percent? 50 percent? Recall that the Centers for Disease Control acknowledged not many months ago that for years it had underestimated the number of people annually infected with HIV by more than 40 percent.

Every year, every day, young gay men come out and begin engaging in sex. They may think they are invulnerable, they may be heedless, or they may never see a safe-sex message or have had the term "safe sex" spelled out for them. When I have visited bathhouses or back-room bars, I have seen people of all ages and ethnicities engaging in unprotected sex. Clearly safe-sex messages have lost their impact or are not reaching them in a persuasive fashion.

Many people seem to care more about AIDS abroad than in the U.S. President Bush has sponsored billions of dollars in funding to prevent AIDS in third-world countries, but said little abut AIDS in the U.S. Some evangelical churches are involved in helping to combat AIDS abroad, but show no interest in AIDS in the U.S. It seems clear that they are interested in helping heterosexuals abroad, but want nothing to do with homosexuals in the U.S.

So it continues to be up to us.

Much to Be Thankful For

Every year I think about writing a Thanksgiving column, but-wouldn't you know-every year I would think of it too late to get it into the paper in advance, making it pretty uninteresting if not entirely useless. So this year I am writing well in advance.

I am aware that I am not enough of a public figure to make people interested in what particulars I am thankful for (compare the typical Sunday supplement feature like "Five Things Michele Obama is Thankful For") but my hope is that by listing some of my things, I can suggest to readers categories of things to consider being thankful for that they might not otherwise think of.

I am thankful that I live in the United States. No one need run a chauvinistic line about this being the greatest country in the world, &c., in order to be aware of the benefits of living here-a written constitution, a bill of rights (free speech, free press, and the rest), and regular elections that let us change the administration. American voters do not always choose wisely, but they can sense when something has gone wrong and try to effect a change.

I am thankful to my parents for so much that to list all the things would be a lengthy task. But let me just mention that they managed to instill not so much a specific morality (though if honesty and courtesy are virtues I hope they did that) but a sense of moral seriousness about the business of living and relating to others. I do not manage these things perfectly, but at least I am aware of my shortcomings as moral lapses.

I am thankful to the friends who have been valuable supports and companions (even if often by email these days) over the years. Names are unnecessary; they know who they are and I hope they know my appreciation.

I am thankful for the composers who have excited, inspired, emotionally moved, and entertained me with their compositions. The list is not long. It suffices here to mention Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Shostakovich and Vaughan Williams.

I am thankful that my native language is English. I am terrible at learning foreign languages, but English has become a-dare one say, the-international language, so I am lucky that I do not have to struggle to learn a second language to communicate in a closely knit world.

I feel neutral about being gay, although I will say that it works pretty well for me. However, I am deeply thankful that I lived into and came out in an era when there was beginning to be a large and vibrant gay community to provide a supportive environment as I learned to negotiate this new self-understanding.

I am thankful that my apartment is warm in the winter, my refrigerator is well stocked with food, and that clean drinking water comes out of the tap when I turn the knob. Many people in the rest of the world have few or none of these things.

I am thankful for the members of the gay listserv I am on. Their comments have stimulated, informed and sometimes irritated me in ways that have been enormously helpful for my thinking and writing.

I am thankful that medical research has made enough progress that we now have drugs that keep those of us infected with HIV alive for a prolonged period. We can hope that the longer we stay alive the better are the chances of further improvements in the drugs, and the possibility of a cure.

It is hard to say this in public, but I am thankful for people-friends and otherwise-who over the years have pointed out-if not always in a kindly manner-my various (and apparently numerous) character and personality flaws and deficiencies. Though it was not always part of their intention, they helped me become a better person.

I am thankful that my parents did not foist a religion onto me. They decided to let me choose for myself. I ended up choosing no religion at all, deciding that all religions are a tissue of myth and imposture, and have done great harm to mankind.

I am thankful for the unexpected opportunity over the last few years to write about art for my newspaper. And I am thankful for the artists whose works have challenged my mind, delighted my eye, and lured me into looking at things more closely than I was accustomed to doing.

This is hardly a complete list, but it will do for a start and perhaps prompt your own thoughts as America's annual day of giving thanks approaches.

Anti-Gay, Anti-Logical

For decades, bigots objected to interracial marriage because the participants were too different from each other. But now the bigots are objecting to same-sex marriage because-get this-this participants are too much alike. Many of today's bigots are in the same demographic groups as the bigots back then, so I wish they'd make up their minds whether it is sameness or difference they object too.

Homophobes like to argue that if we legalize gay civil marriage it will lead to heterosexual polygamy. As usual with homophobes, they have things backwards. For much of recorded history, marriage was a man and a number of women, depending on the man's economic status. Any reader of the Old Testament knows this. That tradition continues to this day in Muslim countries and existed for several decades among Mormons in the U.S. So, as same-sex marriage becomes a reality, we can accurately say that polygamy preceded same-sex marriage, not followed as a result.

"Ex-gay" advocates and their fundamentalist supporters say that one of the reasons people "become" homosexual is that they were "molested" as youths. Since almost all molesters are men, that means that young males molested by a man develop a sexual desire for men, but young woman molested by a man develop a sexual desire for women. So molestation supposedly makes men's desires turn toward the sex of the molester, but women's desires turn away from the sex of the m olester. No one has explained this contradiction. And how do they explain the far larger number of male and female youths who were molested but did not "become" homosexual? What does that do to their theory?

Robert Cary, director of "Save Me," a small-budget fictional film about an ex-gay ministry said, "Many [ex-gay functionaries] genuinely believe that they are helping people to live good lives. But they believe that you're born with your religion and choose your sexuality, when that is the opposite of the truth."-The Times of London, Oct. 7, 2008.

It is interesting that Alcoholics Anonymous insists that people who used to drink a lot but now abstain continue to refer to themselves as alcoholics long after they have stopped drinking. By contrast, the "ex-gay" proponents insist that people who used to engage in homosexuality but are trying to abstain not refer to themselves as homosexuals. One of them is surely wrong. I suspect both are.

I am not sure that sexual orientation makes us a community. We may be what Kurt Vonnegut called a "granfalloon." I think I have more in common with the thoughtful heterosexual man who likes music and art and literature than I do with a gay man who loves drag queens, "divas," and hip-hop. As hostility to gays lessens and gay people's defensive clannishness declines, other factors than sexuality will become more important in our lives. Will gays then become completely absorbed into the mainstream? That's not likely; unattached gays will still want same-sex partners and seek out places where those are most available. That does have some social ramifications.

And finally, two belated notes for Gay History Month. First, gay liberation did not begin with Stonewall; one source was in the arts community. "As some of us would later learn, if we didn't know already, sexual preference did play a part in the politics of the New York art world. New York Surrealists like Pavel Tchelitchew and Eugene Berman belonged to a gay subculture that had found greater acceptance in the uptown worlds of ballet and fashion than in the downtown Cedar Tavern scene populated by Pollock, Rothko, and company." -Herbert Muschamp, "The Secret History," New York Times, Jan. 8, 2006, section 2, pg. 1.

Art journalist Calvin Tomkins agrees: "Quite a few of the sixties artists were either bisexual or homosexual, and not a bit uptight about it. The attention and money lavished on the newcomers led to talk if a 'homintern,' a network of homosexual artists, dealers, and numerous curators in league to promote the work of certain favorites at the expense of 'straight' talents." -Off the Wall: Robert Rauschenberg and the Art World of Our Time (1980), p. 260.

Second, it seems to me that sex researcher Alfred C. Kinsey redefined homosexuality. Before Kinsey, the homosexual was the man who was penetrated, whether by bottoming in anal sex or by fellating a man. The man getting fellated was simply "trade" and could consider himself (and often was) heterosexual. But Kinsey defined homosexuality as having an orgasm with another man. So if the man getting fellated had an orgasm, Kinsey counted that as a homosexual act. And if the man doing the fellating did not have an orgasm, then he was not included in the count.