Gays Organize for GOP Convention

Activists, citing need for gay-specific protests, organize “Gays Against Bush”

While most lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups are taking a pass on mounting protests at the Republican National Convention in New York next month as they pursue other priorities, a grassroots group that has dubbed itself “Gays Against Bush” has embarked on building a gay and lesbian presence in some of the larger demonstrations planned around town when the G.O.P. arrives.

Veteran AIDS activist Ray Dries pulled the group together on June 20 at Manhattan’s LGBT Community Center with about 25 other activists, including this reporter, who vary from radical to Democratic politics, as well as at least one disaffected Republican. The group will meet every Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Center until the convention begins on August 30. In a year in which the Bush administration has launched an unprecedented attack on LGBT rights, the group is looking for creative ways to protest Republican bigotry while appealing to Americans’ sense of fairness.

At the very least, Gays Against Bush will put together an LGBT feeder march from Sheridan Square the morning of the massive World Says No to the Bush Agenda March being organized by United for Peace & Justice (UPJ), the folks who have staged the largest U.S. anti-war marches since the move toward war in Iraq began.

UPJ has won the right to march past the empty Madison Square Garden, site of the Republican convention, on Sunday, August 29 at midday, but was denied the right to rally in Central Park, despite the editorial support of papers from The New York Times to the New York Post. The Bloomberg administration was adamant that the group could take the offer of a rally on West Street near Chambers Street or leave it. While lead organizers like Leslie Cagan, an out lesbian, voiced concerns that the summer sun exposure in the proposed rally area is a hazard to the marchers, UPJ has accepted the city’s ultimatum. At least 250,000 demonstrators are expected.

Gays Against Bush is considering a variety of other actions on issues from same-sex marriage to gays in the military to AIDS funding, but most of the sentiment in the room on Tuesday was for organizing a protest presence at the convention and letting participants bring signs of their own choosing. Potential sites include the Times Square Armed Forces recruiting booth and the Bloomberg reception for Log Cabin Republicans in Bryant Park, but those particulars will be decided in the weeks to come. The meetings are open to all.

Most of the mainstream LGBT rights groups are not devoting themselves to organizing demonstrations at the convention. Sheri Lunn, communications director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said the organization would be concentrating their efforts from now until Election Day on defeating the 11 (and counting) referenda nationwide seeking to ban same-sex marriages in state constitutions.

“The Pride Agenda is not going to be involved in the Republican Convention or any of the activities around it,” said Joe Tarver, spokesperson for the group. “The RNC and Bush administration have done a better job than any of us could ever hope in telling America where they stand on our issues. There are no questions left to be cleared up for the media or anyone else that might need to know. Our lives, our relationships and our families have become cannon fodder in the battle for the White House and the future of the country. If anyone doesn’t by now know who the good guys and the bad guys are, they been sleeping under Iraq… err.. a rock.”

Tarver said that his group is urging people with the energy to oppose Bush to get themselves and their friends to a battleground state like Pennsylvania “for a long day or weekend,” offering to help people get tied in if they don’t know how to help the Kerry/Edwards ticket. This is much the same advice filmmaker Michael Moore has been giving to those who want a new administration.

The Human Rights Campaign did not return a call seeking comment on its plans for the New York convention.

DontAmend.com, a group fighting the Federal Marriage Amendment, is planning to picket a delegate reception at the Democratic National Convention July 26 hosted by Stonewall Democrats, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force at 8:30 p.m. outside Avalon Nightclub at 15 Lansdowne Street.

“Rather than forthrightly saying that the civil rights of millions of Americans should be defended, most Democratic politicians have treated our equal marriage rights as at best an unfortunate ‘diversion’ in their election campaigns,” said Andy Thayer of DontAmend.com.

The Democratic Party platform has endorsed a broad range of rights for gay and lesbian families as it has in the past, stopping short of marriage. G.O.P. platforms have explicitly condemned any civil rights protections for LGBT people and the Republican National Committee recently attacked Sen. John Edwards, Kerry’s running mate, for opposing consensual sodomy laws.

The largest gay event tied to the Republican convention will be the Summer of Love ’04 Concert for Equality, promoting family diversity, now set for Wednesday, August 25 from 6 to 10 p.m. in the East Meadow of Central Park just north of the 96th Street entrance at Fifth Avenue. Promoter and gay activist Scott Robbe conceived that event following Pres. George W. Bush’s endorsement of the Federal Marriage Amendment. It has attracted lots of gay folks involved in the entertainment industry and will be produced by John Cameron Mitchell and Josh Wood who are busy lining up headliners for the event. For more information, go to summeroflove04.com

The Summer of Love organizers meet Mondays at Elmo on Seventh Avenue between 19th and 20th Streets at 7 p.m.

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