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Xbox Live allows LGBT Identity expression

Today, March 5th, Microsoft’s Xbox Live team announced a change in their terms of service.  This new change allows, among other things, LGBT members to express their "relationship recognition" in their Xbox Live profile information.  A set of approved words has been set for each language the service operates in.

From today’s release:

With that in mind, I’d like to announce an update to the Xbox LIVE Terms of Use and Code of Conduct which will allow our members to more freely express their race, nationality, religion and sexual orientation in Gamertags and profiles. Under our previous policy, some of these expressions of self-identification were not allowed in Gamertags or profiles to prevent the use of these terms as insults or slurs. However we have since heard feedback from our customers that while the spirit of this approach was genuine, it inadvertently excluded a part of our Xbox LIVE community

From the new Terms of Use for the English service:

You may use the following terms to express your relationship orientation in your profile or Gamertag:

    • Lesbian
    • Gay
    • Bi
    • Transgender
    • Straight

Other terms regarding relationship orientation are not allowed. In addition you may not use these terms or any other terms regarding relationship orientation to insult, harass, or any other pejorative use against other users.

It’s great to see Microsoft moving forward on this and honoring their promise to address this.  Initially, there was discussion around the best way to solve this problem.  The key requirement was how to minimize the potential use of words like these, or the expression of them, to increase harassment.   Various options were explored over time, including changes to the service.  However, as is often the case, the simplest solution wins out.  KISS principle at work.

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Michael Holder, STI Disclosure, and Avoiding The Gulag of Silence

This is a follow-up post in a dialog with Todd Heywood.  Todd had originally covered the case of Michael Holder who was convicted of failing to disclose his HIV status to his girlfriend. My initial post, Dishonesty in health disclosure: Michael Holder got Justice,  supported a legal deterrent against such behavior,  with a focus on Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI), using the Michael Holder case as an example.  Todd Heywood responded in Do HIV-positive people have more responsibility in HIV prevention?

Todd wraps up his post with a broad description of my post and who I am says:

But I posit that there is more at work here than simple ignorance. Cohen is operating on a level I suspect even he is unaware of. There is a kind of blame the HIV-positives for their condition mentality involved. Thus, a public flaying, such as having to disclose HIV status, is warranted. It is a scarlet letter of the modern world, and Cohen, who is presumably negative since he has not hint at understanding HIV stigma, discrimination and the subsequent violence that attaches itself to such disclosures, wants us to continue to wear the scarlet letter.

According to Todd, because I agree with the majority opinion from the appeals court, I’m racially insensitive.  Because I find the defendant, a convicted burglar who met and infected the plaintiff while cheating on his wife, less credible than the plaintiff, I’m demonizing HIV positive people.   Because this is my first post on STI transmission, and that in an unrelated post about how the lack of democratic leadership in our movement starves non-big-ticket battles, I did not list HIV in a short list of examples, I’m HIV Phobic.

I don’t doubt that there are people that actually think and do what Todd is alleging. I suppose if all you know about me is from my blog, you might find what I have written on this topic to appear similar  enough to what those kind of folks would and assume that’s where I’m coming from.  It isn’t.  As Todd has expanded on his point, and related his person experience, so will I.

I’m not HIV positive, so I can’t truly claim to understand Todd’s perspective from a first hand point of view like he can. True, the dialog with Todd has caused me to learn more about the plight of HIV positive people.  However, HIV positive friends and lovers are not new to me.  As long as someone is open about it, honest, and is agreeable to precautions which minimize the risk of transmission, it’s not something I would necessarily discriminate by.   If there’s any discrimination I’m doing, its against deceptive and unethical behavior, especially when it puts me at risk.

However, as someone who’s been in a relationship situation where there was not appropriate disclosure of an STI (and that was not HIV), and some questionably deceptive and unethical behavior regarding it, I see the issue from a different perspective.  Just because I am not HIV positive, doesn’t mean I have to remain confined to a gulag of silence.

I’ll expand further on my opinions shortly. However, I’m not pushing all the responsibility to the other side, not am I focusing on HIV in particular.  To me, the holder case is just an example of the STI disclosure issue.  In truth, from our dialog and his other public statements, I don’t think we are really that far apart.  Is it unreasonable to expect a person who I am dating who has an STI to disclose that to me before we have sexual contact?

As evidence that we have some common ground:

in 2009, speaking at the Michigan Equality Rally at the capitol, Todd says

For those of us who are HIV positive, we help the gulag [of silence] . We are our own oppressors; we have to stand up and admit that we are HIV positive  each and every time we meet somebody.  We have to be honest if we expect honesty in return.  It’s that simple, and if we’re not, we’re killing ourselves and our brothers and our sisters.  It’s time to end the silence.

Perhaps he’s speaking in a broader context than just sexual relations.  However, if you advocate coming out as HIV positive to help the community and HIV people collectively, isn’t it kind of a contradiction that you wouldn’t also advocate telling those who you will have sex with?

I didn’t quote this solely to support my point about disclosure.  There’s a broader point in Todd’s words that I want to amplify.   There is a lot of ignorance and discomfort in the LGBT community about STIs like HSV, HPV, HEP, HIV and others.  People are being discriminated against because of this, when they needn’t be.  As long as people are honest with each other, there are reliable ways to mitigate the risks of transmission.  Just because one of these is present in a partner does not mean you can’t have a safe, loving and long term relationship.

We must combat the ignorance and discomfort society feels about LGBT people, we must come out.  We need society to experience us, to see us as human beings alongside them.  People often say that their opinions of LGBT changed significantly in a positive direction once a person they knew or family member came out.

I think Todd’s point is that by retreating into the closet, people with these kinds of health conditions are missing a critical opportunity to remedy this ignorance and discomfort.  Todd is one of the few who is taking the risk of outing himself as a leading example. I think that’s extremely brave.  I’ve only included an excerpt of his speech, but think watching the full version is worth your time.

The Holder Case

Just because I agree with the majority opinion from the appeals court, doesn’t mean I’m racially insensitive.

As proof of the fact that this is a clear case of racial bias, He states  that because Judge Karen Nelson Moore says so, that establishes that that this is a clear instance of racial bias and that I am just racially insensitive.  However, Moore wrote her position as part of the Appeal’s minority opinion on Holder’s appeal.   Turns out that the majority did not agree.  The fact that this was a split decision among intelligent people, means that exactly that: reasonable people can disagree without being called names.

When I read through the judgment on the appeal, I examined the court transcripts in question.  I will agree that some things were said that merit additional examination.  In my post, I expressed support for the appeal.  However those transcripts show leading questions that I feel could walk a reasonable person into saying unreasonable things.  There’s also testimony from the potential jurors (who are accused of racial bias) stating that they found the original questionnaire’s wording slanted and confusing.  Normal people who get tapped for jury duty very rarely, can easily be confused by legalistically worded questions.  A few of them specifically called out clever use and placement of pejorative words, along with some fast reading on their part, caused them to answer in a way that did not represent how they really felt, given the further clarification.

Just because I find the defendant, a convicted burglar who met and infected the plaintiff while cheating on his wife, less credible than the plaintiff, doesn’t mean I’m demonizing HIV positive people.

Todd writes:

In fact, the records and Holder’s own statements show that the victim was aware of this marriage and allowed Holder to move in with her anyway.

So much for the innocent victim of the cheating husband meme.

Hardly.   Much of this case, like many others, comes down to “he said, she said” and who’s the more believable witness.  It’s not that she’s a victim because he’s cheating on his wife.  The victim of that is his wife.   It’s the fact that he is cheating on his wife that makes him less credible to me.  It’s purely about him and his behavior that affects his credibility.   It’s just like the burglary conviction. According to Kosecki, who I believe, Holder not only failed to disclose, but lied and denied that he was HIV positive.

Just because this is my first post on contagious disease transmission, and that in an unrelated post about where I argued that the lack of democratic leadership in our movement focuses our resources on marquee issues like “Marriage” and starves others and did not list HIV in a short list of examples, doesn’t mean I’m HIV Phobic.

In an unrelated post where I was arguing (among other things) that perhaps because of less than democratic governance in our movement, we are so focused on the 100% solution of marriage in huge expensive battles, that we are starving other efforts like in smaller states for things like Employment Non-Discrimination or even basic forms of relationship recognition such as hospital visitation rights and smaller communities like Transgendered.  I suppose because I did not specifically list HIV, or forgot to include the words “including but not limited to”, I am HIV phobic.

Reciprocally, if you watch Todd’s speech, it’s focused entirely on HIV, even though many of the same issues arise with other contagious diseases.  Would I like to see him include those other diseases in his public speeches?  Yes.  Because he didn’t include the others, does that mean he’s HSV-Phobic?  No, of course not.

It’s not just about HIV


We talked and emailed a lot before we had the opportunity to have any sexual contact. I did notice there was something visible going on in a place on him that it would not be possible to have sexual contact without significant exposure to myself.  It looked a lot like acne and that was my initial assumption.  During the conversation phase, i did what I thought was right.  At a point where the conversation turned to sex, we shared our sexual histories.  When sharing my sexual history I  brought up the topic of STIs and made it clear that there was nothing going on that he needed to worry about.  I delicately prodded him to reciprocate.  He didn’t disclose anything.   At that point I went with my assumption that what i saw was acne on his face in the chin area.  I felt it would have been offensive to push it further. Eventually, we found ourselves in the right situation, and sexual contact happened.  After that, I felt uneasy looking at it more closely  and specifically asked exactly what that was.  His response was that it was a warts outbreak. I was kind of stunned and insisted on talking about it right then.  I was persuaded with assurances of commitment. I asked for a simple thing to protect me such as wearing a band-aid, but was and scolded for complaining about such a superficial thing.  Essentially I was bullied into continuing to expose myself.  I allowed this exposure to continue .   I’m embarrassed to admit that I allowed myself to end up in such a physically and emotionally risky position.

Those assurances didn’t amount to much.  For months after it ended, I was afraid that the HPV was going to show up.  In my mind, I was sure I was going to get it.   I would scrutinize any  ingrown hair follicle, shaving bump, or odd bump.  I went to the doctor a few times to have things examined.   HPV can take a while to show up, and there’s no simple test for males, like a HEP, HSV, or HIV test to tell if you get it.  The uncertainty was the worst part.  I certainly read up on and learned about HPV alot.  It turns out that there are many different types of warts, and usually ones that show up on the face aren’t the typically known “genital warts”.

[update] It’s been argued that since these types of warts are a different strain of HPV than “genital warts”, and they are not actually on the genitals, that it’s not actually an STI.   To me, that’s a pretty fine distinction.  If it was on an arm or leg, I could more easily agree.  But when it’s in a place that you need to touch to make out, it seems like an unimportant distinction.  Still, its the trust issue that bugs me the most.

It made me think a lot about what I would do if it turned out that i got it.   When i get the occasional cold sore on my lip, it’s not always very visible.  However, I’m strict about not letting someone kiss me when its present.  I’ve stopped people from kissing me and always first disclose.  I do think it’s my responsibility.

Even though in most cases your immune system eventually rids your body of the virus, someone else’s well being comes before my sexual urges.

With HIV, one can (and should) use a condom; it’s a very reliable way to inhibit transmission of HIV.  However with HSV, HEP and HPV, there just isn’t an equivalent think that the potential recipient can do to protect themselves.  They are dependent on the transparency and honesty of the person who has it.

I also felt that because of pressure not to offend or reinforce a stigma or phobia, there is hesitation to be too direct or pushy.  The gulag of silence also has a side effect of discouraging a level of directness which may be appropriate.

In the end, enough time passed without it showing up that I felt that I’d dodged the bullet.  This is now a few years ago.  Though I’d been lucky, many are not, and who knows, down the road, one of those people could be me, you or any of us.

I also own the fact that I made some questionable decisions at the time. I could have refused to continue once it was apparent what was going on. I could have resisted the persuasions.   If I had ultimately gotten it, I would share responsibility.  However, the experience has definitely affected my view of the issue here, and as a result I have a strong position in support of disclosure obligations, and legal deterrent with respect to failing to disclose.  That is why I chose to speak out on my blog.

Legal deterrents can be part of the solution

The person I was involved with should have known better and been more transparent at an earlier time, like prior to first exposure.  Probably above all else, this experience is what drives me to empathize with Maria Kosecki’s position and my support for the conviction.

Todd writes:

Is there a moral obligation to disclose one’s HIV status to one’s partner(s)? Absolutely. That same moral obligation stands with diseases such as herpes, (now linked to Alzheimer’s Disease), HPV (linked to anal, penile and cervical cancers), Hep B and C (linked to liver cancers) and more. Yet, in Michigan, none of those viruses carries a criminal sanction– only HIV carries such a criminal sanction.

Rhetoric and name-calling aside, I don’t think our positions are all that different.     We agree on the moral obligation to disclose.   Todd point’s out that the other STIs are not covered by Michigan’s law.  I agree that is a problem. He doesn’t take a position on whether criminal sanctions are truly necessary, which we may not be totally aligned on.  My opinion is that, some people are not sufficiently motivated to follow trough on the moral obligation Todd does state agreement with.

if you steal my MP3 player, you can be criminally prosecuted.  Aside from being out some money, and maybe feeling violated, I’m fine.  If one person slaps another, they can be charged criminally with assault and or battery.    Aside from perhaps temporary pain and embarrassment, there’s little if any long term effect on the victim’s quality of life.   It’s much less than having to manage HSV, HEP, HPV or HIV or others over the course of a lifetime..  Not only is the physical side harsh, the emotional effects of having this is a visible place or one that is “in the line of fire”, so to speak, in a sexual situation are non-trivial.  So if someone can be charged criminally for slapping, I don’t see why they can’t be charged for this.  That’s why I support a legal deterrent against this.   It isn’t the ideal, or entire solution to maintaining the health of our community, it’s just a part.

Another HUGE part of this solution is honesty.

If one person is entering into a romantic relationship with another, they have the right to know about any health risks.   i I’ll admit that a casual sex situation has lower expectations and things lean more towards “watch out for yourself”.   In either case, there are multiple perspectives and things to take into account when deciding what is appropriate behavior.   Merely saying “wear a condom” is not sufficient protection and implies that it’s all the recipient’s responsibility and that its effective against all STIs.  Similarly, saying “if you have something, you must disclose” without getting more specific about what’s supposed to be said and when .  Everyone has some responsibility and it’s not a simple answer.

The biggest problem I see is that the discussion on this topic out doesn’t happen.  Throwing recriminations about intent back and forth serves no one.  Avoiding the topic because it might offend someone is equally unhelpful.  The result of not being able to have conversations like this contributes to the spread of contagious diseases and damages the overall health of our community.

This gulag of silence hurts everybody, STI Positive or not.

“From now on treat each other with compassion, treat each other with honesty, and talk about [STIs]. demand it of your community, demand it of yourself”, Todd Heywood,  June 2009.

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Boies: Good to have on our side

With the start of the Prop 8 case in California, I’m finding that my optimism is elevated by the choice of our counsel.  David Boies and Ted Olson are leading the cause.  The pairing of the two is a pretty interesting occurrence.  These two were formerly opponents in the Bush v Gore case after the 2000 elections.

in the public discussion, with all the bitterness and acrimony during that case, you would think that the folks on either side would never be able to cooperate with each other in the future.  Instead, two leaders, from opposing sides, have united to pursue a goal.  Of all things, that goal is to overturn Prop 8 and restore the ability of gays and lesbians in California to marry.

The idea that such former adversaries can unite and cooperate provides an example of reconciliation that gives me hope that people can cooperate for the good of the country.  Ultimately, if we are ever to make progress in our democracy all sides need to help.

Aside from this somewhat mushy "lets all work together" stuff, Boies has been involved in some interesting cases.  The one that is closest to me is his role representing the US Government against Microsoft.  Among Microsoft employees, Boies is often regarded as a bitter enemy.  Bill Gates famously said that Boies was "out to destroy the company."  So in the Microsoft LGBT friendly community it’s an example of switching from a deep dislike, to rooting for him to succeed.

Also interesting in that case was the fact that the democratic administrations such as Clinton’s were viewed as more of a danger to the company than a republican one.  When Bush took office, there was a sense of optimism that the government would be more friendly.  

Boies was very successful in his work on that case.  He succeeded in getting a judgment against Microsoft and a the relief ordered was a breakup of the company.  That scenario was such an unthinkably catastrophic situation, that people were in disbelief.

Ultimately that relief was appealed and the company remains a single entity today.  However, a huge chunk of the company now operates with fairly oppressive compliance regulation.  Windows and certain related teams must perform much additional work to document interfaces, protocols and other things to the satisfaction of some pretty picky people.  The later trials in the EU have added to that workload.

As a result, Microsoft’s ability to keep pace with innovation is hampered.   Of course, for those who were hoping for a judgment against Microsoft, this is a good thing.  Now there is less chance that the behavior which was judged to be improper can happen.

Years prior, Boies was part of the team that represented IBM in it’s defense against a similar anti-trust suit brought by the DOJ.  In that case he was working from the opposite position as the Microsoft case.

Having someone who has experience in seeing an issue from both sides is a huge benefit.  As far as the Prop 8 case goes, the lesson is that Boies is serious business, and the other side should be appropriately worried.

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Dishonesty in health disclosure: Michael Holder got Justice

In Todd Heywood’s article, Federal court rejects appeal in case of HIV-positive Bay City man, he reports on the US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to deny the appeal of Michael Holder.  Holder was appealing his previous conviction of failure to disclose his HIV-Positive status to his girlfriend, prior to intercourse.

The article closes with a quote from Holder: “I am shocked. But you know it is what it is. I am certainly shocked by the ruling, by the decision,” Holder said. “It’s crazy.”

The coverage on this case talks a lot about the potential bias from jurors, the lack of specificity of the Michigan law, which makes it a crime to fail to disclose your status prior to exposing someone, and the effects that this law can have related to stigmatization of HIV positive people.

What irks me is that there’s little discussion about the real victim here, Monica Kosecki.  What about her?  She’s not the criminal burglar who cheated on a spouse and infected her fling.  She’s now saddled with the additional burden of dealing with HIV.  She will also now face the stigma everyone is so worried about.  If the person who criminally gave it to her faces no consequences, how is she likely to behave in a similar situation?  If her own inner sense of ethics is not enough to convince her, she’s less likely to disclose.  If she knows that behavior will be punished, she’s much more likely to.

The crux of the appeal centers around potential bias.  From reading the judgement, I can agree that it was reasonable for Holder to appeal.  However, he did, and he lost.  If he wants to appeal again, that’s his right.  Still, from reading through the available information, it looks like the jury and judges who had even more firsthand information performed reasonably.

In what i presume to be an attempt to show the weakness of the judgement, a dramatic "but then something happened", tale of recantation is trotted out.

The night after testifying, Kosecki and Holder had a conversation.  The next morning Kosecki attempted to recant her statement.  This is put forth to allege that he somehow convinced her that she would regret lying.   I disagree.  This is an attempt to intimidate and threaten.  What she "did" was defend herself.  Holder is a convicted criminal, who was also married.  He is already lying to the woman he’s supposed to be committed to.  This seems to me to be someone who’s ego refuses to let him see his own mistakes or the negative effect he’s had on others.  Instead, he’s focused on what’s being done to him; he’s going to face justice and he doesn’t like it.

The relevant portion of that conversation is quoted:

“I hope you know what you did. I just hope you know what you did, you know. That’s all I hope. I hope you know, you know, next year or the year after or the year after, you can’t take it back and say ‘well, I didn’t mean to say that’, you know. It’s — it’s done.”

Look at the actual words of the statement.  He never actually asserts that what she said wasn’t true.   Why not point out the reality of what she’d feel guilty about: lying.  Never said.  He couldn’t, because assuming he is guilty, she’d refute his lie again.

I’m not trying to argue that there aren’t issues with the current law.  They should be fixed.  Both the specificity and the penalties should be re-evaluated.  While they are at it, I’d support expanding the law to cover other permanent diseases that are transmittable through sex, though with proportionately less severe punishments.

Being deceptive about health issues when it harms someone else is wrong.  There should be a deterrent.  We have many laws that punish people for far less severe wrongs.  I support making these transmission laws work well.

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2009 and Hate Crimes: Old Video of Matt

The year 2009 is almost over, which is totally freaky because it still feels new to write “2009” in a date field.  No matter what happens now, 2009 will be a milestone on the historical timeline for LGBT rights.   With the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act and signing into law by President Obama, 2009 will be notable.  Thanks to this law, LGBT people, like racial minorities and other protected classes now have additional tools in preventing hate crimes.

I was looking through some videos I found for a research project and found an interview with Matthew and then boyfriend from the mid nineties.  I remember when I first saw that video, thinking that I’d never seen anything but a picture of him.  Watching the video gives a much bigger picture of him, his voice, animations and, friendliness.

Have a look:



Update: h/t InterstateQ for pointing out the source of this interview.
There’s very little video of Matthew Shepard, this is the only one I’ve ever seen. It comes from a documentary called “Dear Jesse”, which is about Jesse Helms. This is such a case of chance; just by coincidence, when Tim Kirkman, the director, was interviewing students, Matthew happened to be one of them. At the time, he was just an average guy, and there was no way to know how significant he would become posthumously in our movement.
Check out the documentary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dear_Jesse

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"You Aren't Lying Effectively" says Senator Cardinale (NJ-R-39) to a Bar Association Trustee

Thomas Prol, a trustee of the NJ Bar Association, testified during the NJ Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Marriage Equality on 12/6/09.  Prol gave excellent testimony on why Civil Unions don’t work.  He gives a great overview of some key problems and how they manifest themselves.  He covers ERISA, the federal law that creates exceptions allowing employers to ignore state equality laws.  Then he explains how NJ Civil Union law invites discrimination because without equality in name, equality in rights does not exist.

After he finished his statement, Senators were permitted to ask questions.  The first one is Gerald Cardinale, a republican from District 34 in NJ.  He certainly sounds cranky enough to be a republican.  The agitation in his voice shows how well Prol made the case.  In his testimony, Prol, cites the body of evidence produced by the Civil Unions commission set up to examine the efficacy of the Civil Unions law.  During questioning, Cardinale has nowhere to go except make accusations that the commission was biased.  I guess that must be true if they disagreed with you, Cardy.

Cardinale asks if Prol, "with a straight face", can say that the commission was unbiased.  You know there must have been giggling in the room over "with a straight face", don’t these republicans keep up with humor?   Prol keeps it together and gives a straight up "Yes" that they were unbiased. 

Once again, Cardy stoops to the only low ground he can and accuses Prol of lying.  "You aren’t lying effectively", he says, noting that he knows it takes 3 years of learning to be a good liar.  Well, Cardinale is a republican, so I guess he’s qualified to judge lying skill. I’ll give him that. 

If your blood pressure needs a boost, listen to the exchange yourself. 

  • Cardinale starts yakking at 5:00
  • Sen. Nia Gill (D-34) speaks up to apologize for Cardy’s unprofessionalism at 7:20

Then visit Garden State Equality to find out how to help. If you can, click here to Donate.

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See our side's first commercial!



My contribution: $


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New Poll: Don’t be complacent, we must vote Approve on Referendum 71

In 2008, the University of Washington released its poll on support for same sex domestic partnerships reporting that 66% of the general electorate support full domestic partnership.  Today, on the Approve Referendum 71 campaign’s blogger briefing call, Josh Friedes, the campaign manager, revealed the results of their new poll concludes that 51% would vote “approve” while  44% would vote “reject” on referendum 71.   The difference in numbers is due to the new poll’s focus on off year election voters. In an off-year election, voter are typically more conservative and older.   

The new poll is a much more accurate representation of what this years turnout will be and just how slim the margin in our favor.  It is likely that in the coming weeks there will be a lot of noise coming from the other side with mischaracterizations and deceptive arguments.  While may will see these for what they are, some may be swayed by them resulting in less support for “approve”.

The outcome will be determined by those who show up.  In order to preserve our rights, we need to get up and take action.  Please make sure that your friends and allies vote “approve” on Referendum 71 and don’t forget to mail their ballots!

SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO HELP

Share this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJIgjEvlnU0

 

Phone bank at a call center to spread the word. If you live outside the Seattle/Tacoma Metropolitan area, sign up here to phone bank from home.

Donate online to support the Approve 71 campaign

Change your Facebook photo to the Approve 71 icon and talk about Approving 71 in your status messages. If you run a website or blog, please link to Approve71.orgwith both a text and graphic link. This will be a big help to the campaign to create awareness for the site.

Show your support with Ref71 Gear such as yardsigns, buttons, T-shirts and bumperstickers at the online Approve 71 Cafe Press store.

For more great things you can do check out: Approve71.org

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Moral Hazard or simply the Pursuit of Democracy?

Disclaimer:  I’m not a political scientist. I’m a technologist who participates in LGBT activism.   My day job is at Microsoft,  and I am on the Board of GLEAM.  I participate in and lead democratic technical policy bodies. Because of my corporate association, I am periodically called a tool of hegemony by self appointed Jedis. I hate that.  I am however, aware of the existence of the reality distortion field that surrounds Redmond in a bubble.  I am not a fan of the National Equality March. I would rather people in Washington State stay here and help Approve Referendum 71.

Plug:   Please help protect Washington State Domestic Partnerships.  Contribute to Approve Referendum 71. http://approve71.org/donate

Adam Bink, in You Made the Bed, Now Sleep In it (Alone)?, raises the question:

"Is it right that Cleve made what many consider a mistake, soaked up people and money and other resources that need to go to Maine and Washington State and the Corzine race and Kalamazoo and possibly California and elsewhere, and now others have to rescue it?" Is this Moral Hazard?

This is an interesting and thought provoking question.  Whether or not how we react to the organizing of the march is Moral Hazard or not, there is something else to consider first.

I laughed pretty hard at the outlandish accusation labeling Adam as an "Uncle Tom".  Nonsense.  However, there is an implicit assumption in Adam’s post that because "many" folks in his circle believe that the march is a bad idea that the marchers are the cause of the potential Moral Hazard.

Cleve and his partners could look at the situation in a reciprocal way.   The current leaders are pursing a strategy which is not as effective as we would like, or worse.  Are we, the LGBT "people" following them down a course and as a result, falling into the same Moral Hazard trap?  Instead, why not avoid  that trap by pursing a different, and we believe, more successful strategy like a National March on Washington?

As Mr. Bink states, the real issue here is orthogonal to an opinion on the march itself.

The key issue, in my opinion, is the lack of a voice that your everyday LGBT person, lets call him Chris Cocktail, has in our leadership’s decision-making process.  Efforts like the March, and the post prop 8 rallies are a rebellious quest for democracy in the face of a perceived oligarchy.

Why are  "the many" Mr. Bink refers to entitled to make decisions on our behalf any more so than Cleve and his partners?  I don’t recall voting.

Are we living the values we demand from others?

I attended a few of Mike Lux’s talks in support of his book, The Progressive Revolution.  There’s something he said which nags at me relating to our mission regarding equality.  When the founders (who were elites) of our country sought equality, one thing that concerned them was that this equality might go too far and result in uneducated, non-property owning men, or *gasp* women being allowed to vote too.

As a minority seeking equality in the form of equal treatment and representation by our leaders in government, we hold their feet to the fire on the principle of "all people being created equal".

Those statements beg the same question of accountability to our movement.  Are we really representing the needs of our entire community, or just a subset?  Are we really governing with full consideration for segments of our community like the Transgendered?  Or people who live in Arkansas? Or people who live in Washington State? Or people who live in Indiana?  Or Bill’s who have tragically lost  an "l"?

Other communities do it

My day job is to participate in technical policy setting bodies.  These bodies operate under democratic processes where representatives from various constituencies participate and vote on the issues of the day.  The output of this work is usually called something like Industry Internet Standards.  Examples most people have heard of are HTTP, HTML, or CSS.   Just like in real life, there are 3 main levels of this policy setting.  There are industry standard generating bodies where representation is by company (states), national (federal) standard generating bodies such as ANSI, and international (like U.N.) standard setting bodies such as ISO.  What this means is that at least in theory, technical policy is set democratically by a congress.

truth to power

Q: How many Microsoft employees does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: None, they just declare darkness the new standard(tm)

When a small set of large companies, let’s call them Tech, Inc., who are deep-pocketed and very powerful, unilaterally set a policy that the whole industry will have to abide by, people get uncomfortable.  If those policies are adequate, fair and or generally beneficial to moving the industry forward, people accept it.  However, when they are not, there are problems.

Eventually people decide that if everyone has to live with these decisions, they should be made democratically.  Policy decisions should be decided by a vote.  Where issues need to be decided by a committee of experts, or congress, those experts should be elected.

When a single or small set of organizations decides whether or not to include Transgender in an ENDA policy, not everyone is going to be happy.

two guys and a dog

In my circles of standards wonks, there are many snarky opinions on the different policy bodies and how they operate.  Some require that a large cross section of the industry participate in order to label the output a Standard policy. Others do not.  There are a few, which I wont mention by name, which simply require a small number, say 2, companies, a small fee, and successful execution of the process to produce something called a Standard.  So two guys, a dog, and $25 can turn the crank on the process and then claim to be the arbiter of Industry Standard policy and demand that others follow.

Watching Milk was the first time I became aware of Cleve Jones.   Reading up on him, and watching Bilerico’s interviews with him was educational.  aside from being deeply involved in the Harvey Milk story, which is a pivotal event in our history, he’s done some other amazing things.  Cleve conceived the idea of the AIDS Quilt.  He started the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.  He’s been deeply involved in HIV/AIDS activism to a level most of us could only dream of.

Having said that, it does seem like he just stepped out of the woods and onto the public stage and declares, metaphorically with only a friend and a dog, a new LGBT national organization, agenda, with the first duty for all of us being to attend a March on Washington.

Personally, I share in the frustration that our policy agenda is achieving as much as we would like it to.  More importantly, I’m beginning to wonder whose priorities are driving that policy agenda.  Do they represent me?  Does the March?  No.  These also are not the droids I am looking for.

technology == empowerment.

It’s pretty clear that today’s world, technology elements like the blogosphere, facebook, twitter, and others empower individuals to take action.  Like the bloggers have done to mainstream media, and digital music has done to music and movie labels, dis-intermediate the system.  This middle-man is so last millennium.  Direct action is supreme.   If you’re reading this post and you haven’t been living under a rock, I’m not saying anything new here.

Politics, as most arenas eventually will, is being dis-intermediated.  People can achieve direct results without going through "official channels".  If I don’t like what a campaign is doing, I can do my own thing.  If I play my cards right, I might even be able to change, or even take away, the public discussion from what the "official channels" want.  However, since I am a technologists with good instincts rather than a political scientist with 20 years experience, it could be a unhelpful to the battle I am fighting. For an example of a potential moral hazard situation, see WhoSigned.org and how it has affected Referendum 71.

Many examples of this are playing out today and the National Equality March is just the latest.     If one has the power to effectively run their own campaign, but is told to sit back and defer to others, its appropriate to ask for a voice in the decision making process.  If one doesn’t get a say in the policies they need to live by independent rebellious action follows.

power to the people, viva la revolucion!

Who gets to make the decisions?

The questions I would pose back to Mr. Bink are:

If an intensely diverse and competitive industry composed of bitter corporate enemies can agree to a democratic policy setting process then why can’t our community?

Can we insert some transparency in the decision making process and some structural changes to it to allow the Chris Cocktails to have more of a say?

Is it possible for us to have a unified federal policy platform defined by democratic means?

If it is possible, then how would we even begin to create such a structure?

Can we have an "LGBT Congress" composed of qualified, educated, and experienced, elected representatives of the various constituencies and existing organizations that make decisions by vote?

Can major decisions like "Trans-inclusive ENDA or not?" be put to a vote with existing internet technologies?   If LGBT folks registered to vote with the LGBT Congress could they vote online?

Democracy is a messy business.  There are many risks to making some changes to our community’s decision making structure, even incremental ones, to make them more of a democracy.  Often it seems that the participants would rather play with voodoo dolls of their fellow committee members than agree on anything.     We’ve all heard:

Democracy is, the worst possible system of government… except for everything else.

At the end of the day, after the long speeches and debates, a vote is taken which represents a joint decision.  Even if one doesn’t agree with every decision, you win some you lose some, but its our decision and we need to support it.

If we’re not willing to commit to working together and share both power and responsibility, then uncoordinated independent action will become  the common case rather than the exception.  This is where we are headed unless we change course.

Right now people like Cleve and other grassroots efforts don’t have much of a say in our national policy strategy.

To tie this back to Mr. Bink’s post, though not answering his question:

If the march proves to be a disaster, and is a setback for the movement, no matter what we all do, to some extent we all share a degree of responsibility for not having a more inclusive and democratic decision making process.

The only real way we can align on any strategy is if we all get a say.  How to we do it?

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