Alex Blaze

AMERICAblog, interrupted

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 18, 2009 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics

I was originally going to do a post trying to respond to a few of the misleading statements AMERICAblog has been making about the DOJ DOMA brief, because even though I agree that the brief is offensive and homophobic, misrepresenting it and criticizing the fact that it was even written (when the DOJ, with a few, exceedingly rare exceptions, has to defend standing law) cheapens the entire discussion and makes it easy to dismiss.

So I went over to see their latest posts on DOMA, and here are a few headlines I found on the front page as I write this last night:

Barney Frank throws us under the bus. Lauds incest brief. Says language was appropriate.

They're lying about DOMA too

HRC's Solmonese attends Obama's benefits signing

President Obama betrays the gay community

Gibbs: President stands behind incest/pedophilia brief

When Republicans are better than Democrats on gay rights, the Democratic Party had better take notice

Show Obama you mean business. Donate to AMERICAblog.

Well, actually that last one explains a lot.

So it doesn't seem worth it to actually respond to anything going on there as if it were a reasoned argument. Instead, Aravosis and his crew are the leaders of a sector of the gay community that's simply lost its mind over the past week. And if we think that losing our heads is going to make any of our battles easier, we're sadly mistaken.

Yasmin Nair, in a brilliant post earlier this week, admonished the gay community:

Second, I'm intrigued at the level of personal bile and anger leveled at Obama and the paradoxically high level of expectation that people seem to have for him. The sense of betrayal around the Smelt case exposes the extent to which people seem to have over-invested in Obama's supposed munificence and good will towards the gay community. Yes, he's clearly brilliant. Yes, he may well be to the left of Bush, which is not saying very much. But come on people, he's not your daddy.

I laughed there, because "He's not your daddy" is the best way to put it. A few people in the comments mentioned that they never thought he was their daddy, but the point isn't that everyone who's angry with him this week (like myself) did, it's that there was definitely a group of gay people who are acting like the power of their demand for full equality should supplant real work, and that what Obama and the Administration did this week was a "betrayal." (I'm imagining the Harlequin cover already....)

Which is an interesting way to start discussing the matter at hand, since Aravosis was one of the most off-kilter Obamabots out there back during the primary. He was enthralled with all things Obama and relentless in his attacks on Hillary Clinton. Again, I was going to try to find a juicy statement or two for this post, but seriously just check out a week or two from his archive if you need convincing.

So no wonder he feels betrayed here. He fell in love with the man, who turned out to be a standard-issue establishment Democrat when it comes to political ideology. Obama sold himself as more... but he's a politician. That's what they do. And nothing he does now is going to convince me that he's worse than McCain.

The bizarre irony is Aravosis's infamous crusade a year and a half ago to get the trans folks kicked off the ENDA. He arrogantly condemned the "angry" transgender community for having the audacity to think they needed employment discrimination protections and dismissed anyone who called him transphobic as just not getting it. (Apparently he's changed the software he uses for comments on his site since that time, so they're all gone. But I do remember a few comments bringing it up on this post, and him responding with smarmy dismissals like "Oh, it only took 6 minutes for someone to call me a transphobe.")

That was a situation that was understandably interpreted by transgender people as a betrayal. And it wasn't a politician who was moving too slowly, but their supposed ally in the trenches saying they didn't deserve equal protection. And he couldn't stop at just opposing trans inclusion in the ENDA, he went so far as to call trans women "men who wants to cut off his penis" and trans men "transgender anatomically female person (i.e., born with female genitalia), dressed as a man." That's probably about as close as we can get to a transgender equivalent of comparing same-sex relationships to incest.

(I'm not going to say pedophilia, because the brief cited cases about marriage of a 16-year-old, and in my book that is neither "pedophilia" nor "child rape.")

But the betrayals continue. It's not just John Berry and Barack Obama who betrayed John Aravosis. The two other main figures from his side of the ENDA debacle - Barney Frank and Joe Solmonese - have joined the dark side. Barney Frank, for realizing that the DOJ almost always has to defend existing law and discussing just how fucked up it would be if every administration just chose which laws it wanted to defend when it came in, threw "us under the bus. And Joe Solmonese, for attending the signing of a memorandum that, while not a huge LGBT rights advance, was an LGBT rights advance nonetheless, provided "cover" to Obama.

Now Joe and Barney aren't focused enough on the needs of establishment gay men for John Aravosis? The Democratic Coalition of Treachery is bigger than we all thought!

So what we have here is a case of someone who feels betrayal quite easily and quite deeply, and he's not at all alone. His front page betrays the interests of his readers: everything about DOMA and the DOJ has over a hundred comments, everything else has around ten. I decidedly don't think that it's fair to say that all LGBT people are "single-issue," but there's definitely a sector that is, and, well, there they are.

At the same time, he's someone who doesn't really have much trouble betraying others. And there was a sector of the community willing to along with that. But it's all incredibly consistent when viewed through the lens of a single person's needs instead of any broader politics that takes into account the fact that there are many different people who want something out of Obama, some of whom we should be working with, and instead becomes about personal demands instead of making the world better.

It's all very messy because many aspects of this week's outburst fundamentally make no sense and will do little to advance LGBT rights. Does anyone think the White House is impressed with our ability to completely lose our minds? Does it demonstrate our ability to stay in it for the long haul when we can't even wait six months for advances on our agenda? Does it show our strategic brilliance when the last straw is the fact that the DOJ responded to a lawsuit our activist community didn't like anyway? Does it show our commitment to liberal/progressive/leftist politics when the only issues we care about are those that specifically mention LGBT people? Does it demonstrate an ability to unite people outside of our 5% of the population for our cause when we'll eat anyone alive, even other establishment queers, for not following lockstep in our anger and beliefs? Does trumping up charges and flinging insults demonstrate the maturity, emotional or political, to sustain a social justice movement?

I'm happy that people are getting mad about these issues. I'm glad that there's increased involvement and awareness here from the community. And I'm absolutely thrilled to think about the action that this can all be directed towards. But what I don't like is a group of people stoking the fire with half-truths and untruths, histrionics and exaggerations, to help some people work out their emotions in a public setting to the detriment of real action.

I was going to go more specifically through some of the... creatively truthful statements on that site (like mis-paraphrasing the Wall Street Journal and the NY Times, suggesting without any evidence that Barney Frank was bought off by Obama, saying that OPM director John Berry said "yes" that all the rights in the memorandum are have already been granted when I was on the same conference call and can tell you that that's not what Berry said), but it's not the point. I realize that most of what we're dealing with is emotion instead of intellect. Lawdork has a few pretty good reads up on the topic of Aravosis's issues with honesty, if you're interested.

The one that I did want to address, though, was his repeated assertion that the DOJ had a choice when it came to defending existing law here, which it really didn't. He found four cases over the last thirty years where the DOJ didn't defend an existing law, and the circumstances in each case were far different from the current situation. But, as someone pointed out in the comments of my last post on the topic, I'm not a lawyer like John Aravosis. Fair enough. So if you want more information on the topic, please read from the following gay and gay-friendly lawyers, any of whose opinions on the topic I trust more than Aravosis's: Laurence Tribe, Adam B, Chris at Lawdork, Barney Frank, Robert Raban, and Nan Hunter, whose post on the topic goes into the sorts of cases where the DOJ can refuse to defend existing law and is worth reading if you want to know the more wonky details. I was mainly discussing the issue from a policy perspective on Tuesday, and a president or the DOJ or an AG just choosing which laws they want to follow seems like a terrible idea.

But frankly I wouldn't care if it weren't for the power Aravosis has as the netroots representative of LGBT people generally. He had a frontpage article on Salon about this topic where he purports to speak for the community (just like for when he had that article on Salon calling for trans people to be cut from the ENDA where he made creepy and Nixonian "silent majority" arguments about us). As Phoenix Woman put it on DailyKos, a "known crapmeister" is being taken by the netroots' brightest as an honest source on the mood of LGBT people at the moment.

(Trust me, I want to projectile vomit every time I write that "T" when talking about the people who think Aravosis represents the LGBT community, but these folks aren't making that distinction and it's a really sad state of affairs when anyone thinks that Aravosis can represent transgender people.)

The issue is there are lots of people who think they can surmise my opinion on LGBT issues based on what John Aravosis says. And, normally, I don't really mind if straight people who don't follow LGBT issues closely read a few blogs or people who aren't exactly representative to get an idea of where we stand. But Aravosis's views are so repulsive I don't want to in any way be associated with them.

What's worse is that the ENDA debate is about to restart, and you know who Salon and CNN and the big liberal blogs are going to be calling when it comes to finding a representative of the "LGBT community."

I've seen a few of the most hysterical memes of the past few days start on AMERICAblog, and while I know that the Religious Right generally uses fear-mongering and half-truths to rally the troops.... Well, I just thought we were better than that.

But I'm learning this week that many of us aren't. Oh, well, that's just another way in which we're the same as everyone else.

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"there was definitely a group of gay people who are acting like the power of their demand for full equality should supplant real work,"

Real Work?

So how long do you think is an appropriate amount of time to wait, Alex?

There are things to do to advance an agenda outside of "demand" and "wait." There's lobbying, civil disobedience, spreading the message, helping others understand the truth, organizing, fundraising and boycotting....

All of which we will continue to do. That's got nothing to do with you saying it isn't Real Work.

I agree Alex. However, there is a failing in the Obama administration in communications. Something that I have written about several times at Tips-q.

Specific to the issue, I am not at all sure to what extent the US Attorney for the Central District of California was involved in this; O'Brien is an extremely conservative Bush holdover.

As an issue of fact, the White House was not directly involved in this matter. The Justice Department is independent (unless Gonzo happens to be floating around). This is an issue that should be addressed by AG Holder.

As for John, I can tell you from first hand experience that he overreacts to just about everything. One phrase that is not in his vocabulary is "I made a mistake."

What? An independent Judiciary? Don't the lawyers there serve at the pleasure of the president?

Part of the issue here is the fact that Bush politicized the DOJ so completely that we want a little bit of it too now that our guy is in office. It sucks to have to be the ones to say "well, that sort of power isn't ours for the taking, even though the enemy grabbed it up less than a year ago." Of course, prosecutions could set that all straight....

(I think I tried to post a comment and lost it)

I agree with you about Americablog being a terrible representative of the queer+ community, and that a lot of the hysteria and sense of betrayal is misplaced. The DOJ needed to defend the law, fine. But here's the thing. Obama's done nothing on queer issues since he got into office. Nothing on DADT - not identifying Senate co-sponsors, not an administrative work-around, nothing - no liaison to the queers, no one coordinating his legal strategy on queer issues, not even extending benefits to federal employees until now. And the brief really did have some pretty unfortunate language - language that probably wouldn't have been in there had Obama had someone coordinating legal strategy to help prevent bad cases from making bad law.

So while the sense of betrayal may be misplaced, I don't think we're going to impress Obama by being patient. He's a politician. He responds to political incentives. I think it's great that people are getting mad. That's what makes them do all those things you just listed other than "demand" and "wait."

Thank you North. I agree. First, I like reading Americablog, but have noticed that often they read way too much into some things. That being said, the DOJ brief was over the top. The DOJ does not have to defend every law on the books, and Obama has failed in a ton of his promises from transparency to torture to healthcare for all, etc. (

And to say that there is lobbying and fund raising and civil disobedience that has to take place first...we've done that. Over and over again we've done it. This time we let ourselves get duped into believing this Politician understood that. So, it does mean we have to keep doing it, but outrage at Obama and his DOJ is well placed in this situation.

We got some scraps when it looked like the ATM at Bank of Gay was going to run dry because of the outrage. So let's continue that.

I admire John's work at Americablog, even if it seems strident or overbearing to many. I think he's probably done more to influence the Obama administration this week on our issues than most blogs have in their entire existence. As far as I'm concerned, he deserves the donations for his work, however, I can see why people are skeptical.

Kevin Erickson | June 18, 2009 4:26 PM

Absolutely stellar post! You totally get it. The gay blogosphere needs to be part of the reality-based community.

Only thing i disagree about is that Aravosis started off not as a big fan of Obama. The Donnie McClurkin hubbub was his doing. (actually that's a useful reference point, it was similarly an episode that deserved some scrutiny, but Aravosis jumped right to saying the guy that sang at 3 rallies was "one of obama's top surrogates", which was totally false. Aravosis just jumped the hilary ship once it became clear she was going to lose.

Alex, I think I have to disagree. While Americablog may have gone over the top, I share the indignation over Rep. Frank's dismissal of the incest stereotype in the DOJ brief. It says what it says -- that equal protection does not apply to gay marriage just as it does not apply to mariages involving incest.

Frank's statement today that, "I believe that the administration made a conscientious and largely successful effort to avoid inappropriate rhetoric." is beyond disingenuous, it is offensive.

Given Pres. Obama's history with this very same stereotype from the Rick Warren episode, he cannot shrug off this misconduct of his DOJ employees any more than Bush/Cheney are excused from the misconduct of their waterboarding underlings.

Both the President and Rep. Frank have inappropriate rhetoric to account for.

Thanks for commenting, Kelley.

I agree that some of the arguments used in the brief went too far, but my point here is how we react to that language, not the language itself. Which is why I think that overreacting, dishonest arguments, and inappropriate name-calling cheapens the discussion.

There are ways to get mad without purposefully and needlessly riling people up with misleading statements.

As for Frank, well, he's a lawyer and has a different understanding of the context of what was said. He did criticize the brief, not the extent I have here on the site, but he did. But it's not like anyone has any proof that he was bought off, and Aravosis writing up a post saying that Obama may have promised to build a bridge in his district isn't even trying to engage in Frank's argument - it's just a way to shut down that discussion.

Alex, I totally agree with you that that name-calling and dishonesty cheapen the discussion (and lead people like Barney Frank to disavow it). That's why it's important for people to display honest anger as well, so there's no false choice between dishonest anger and full support.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 18, 2009 6:20 PM

Americablog supported the Democrats in the last election and are now scurrying for cover like other apologists and enablers of the increasingly open bigotry and hostility of Democrats. Some are moving to the left and some, like Americablog, to the right. Many are still trapped in the last closet, the Democratic (sic) party.

Here’s what that closet does to people.

“... I made the mistake of relying on other people’s oral descriptions to me of what had been in the brief, rather than reading it first... Now that I have read the brief, I believe that the administration made a conscientious and largely successful effort to avoid inappropriate rhetoric."

What an unprincipled fake. But then, if Frank actually had any principles, or even knew what they were, he wouldn't be a Democrat.


March on Washington

to Dump Clinton's DOMA and DADT,

for the original ENDA,

and to Dump Barney Frank and Dump the Democrats (and their Republican bed partners).

You are on a roll this week. (maybe you are always, but I just discovered you.) I am surprised to learn that John A. is a lawyer; as a lawyer myself, one who actually practices in the constitutional law arena, I have been dismayed by who be keeps pulling stuff out of his butt and pronouncing it a well-settled legal truth. You are setting the record straight.

I'm happy that people are getting mad about these issues. I'm glad that there's increased involvement and awareness here from the community. And I'm absolutely thrilled to think about the action that this can all be directed towards. But what I don't like is a group of people stoking the fire with half-truths and untruths, histrionics and exaggerations, to help some people work out their emotions in a public setting to the detriment of real action.

Worse yet, it's a direct hit on the credibility and trustworthiness of the GLBT movement as a whole. When large numbers of gay and lesbian activists, and their straight allies, start spewing things they know (or should know) to be questionable (and very easily shown to be questionable), it causes real harm and reinforces some ugly stereotypes about the community. It weakens the community's power to influence events, as the average person becomes more inclined to write off ANY grievance the community has, legitimate or not.

I am a veteran of the free-speech, anti-war, civil rights movements of the sixties and one thing I will never forget is all that "rhetoric, spewing and half truths" we published in our underground press turned out, in the clear light of history, to be 100% accurate and the MSM apologists were wrong wrong wrong.

I have no reason to believe this is true today as well.

It's time for revolution, either we are full citizens of the US or we are not. It's actually as simple as this.

Ed White, Knoxville | June 19, 2009 11:09 AM

Yes, Obama has back-burnered our issues since taking office, but we're not the only group he's been MIA on. See today's editorial in the NYT:

Immigration: It’s Time

Immigration issues dovetail with LGBT issues, too. So does healthcare, education, etc., etc. I think we would do ourselves a favor by not being so narrow in our focus.

Beware outrage: it's like a drug, and even has its pushers. It's okay to feel it, but you gotta moderate it with more reason.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 19, 2009 12:51 PM

Absolutely true, Ed.

We should be for socialized medicine - Obama's plan is just a gift for insurance companies, killer HMOs and Big Pharma.

We should be for open borders and do our best to accommodate working people and farmers pauperized by Clintons NAFTA whether they're from the US, Canada or Latin America. Obama supported the Peru FTA.

And we should do all we can to discourage enlistment by GLBT folks and everyone else. Any accommodation or hint of support of Obamas war effort is a betrayal of both the LGBT and antiwar movements. Obama and Congressional Democrats are responsible for continuing and enlarging the Clinton/Bush wars.

We should be for a plan that penalizes the looter rich and jails them for conspiracy to destroy our economy and the standard of living of working people and small farmers. We should support giving trillions to workers in wage increases, mortgage help, free education, and etc. Obama reverses that.

Beware of accommodatioism. It's a narcotic that lulls you to sleep while the Obamabus gets nearer and nearer.

Name the things you think Aravosis is right about. Name the actual points of fact you think he got right. Be honest, now -- dishonesty doesn't help and in fact hurts.

Here's a big point that Aravosis got wrong:

Wednesday night, he put up a post claiming that the rights Obama granted today already existed:

I just asked OPM Director John Berry, on a White House media conference call, whether in fact federal agencies already have the right to give these benefits to gay employees. The answer, “yes.” So what’s new about tonight? Obama is going to “tell” the agencies to give the benefits – as if any agency in the Obama administration would dare tell a gay employee no to a request for time off to attend their partner’s funeral?

But there’s One Small Problem here.

As Alex Blaze, who was also on that call, shows, Aravosis had to twist John Berry’s words around pretty damned hard to get that particular frame to obtain:

Third, John Aravosis asked him what’s actually changing with these guidelines. Federal employment is already supposed to be based on merit, not on factors unrelated to job performance. Aravosis mentioned a woman who worked for the federal government who got leave to take care of her same-sex partner.

Berry responded that previously such benefits to gay employees was “subject to whim of the supervisor.” They were optional, and now they’ll be mandatory.

So in Aravosis-speak, 'optional' and 'mandatory' are the same word with the same meaning!

Furthermore, as Blaze notes, the memorandum actually advances the cause of the transgender community with regard to Federal benefits and employment, something that Aravosis, who as Blaze reminds us is not exactly transfriendly, doesn't seem too eager to mention, much less emphasize. As backward as the Feds are with regard to gay rights, they -- as well as the private sector -- are much further behind on TG rights. The memorandum is a start on changing that.

Mario Democrat | June 19, 2009 1:01 PM

First of all, this brief in and of itself is not the problem, it was just a last straw for many of us. And we shouldn't need to go into why becuase it's been discussed ad nauseum.

I take issue with a few of Aravosis's more highly disputable claims (such as optional vs. mandatory), but only because I think the same points can be made without stretching the truth, and therefore would not be so easily exploited by the Obama apologists. Any hyperbole employed, however, I think is completely warranted. It's time for us to wake up. Obama does have a record on gay relations, and it goes back to South Carolina in 2007. Enough is enough. So let's employ some politics of our own and start the engines. Obviously, it's working. The benefits extended this week are a pittance and not enough and clearly a reactionary move, but before that all we had was a lot of rhetoric, Rick Warren and Donnie McClurkin. So good on us for getting something done, and don't kid yourself: it was the outrage that did it. Outrage catalyzed by the brief, but caused entirely by the lack of action or blatant disrespect from Obama and his administration.

One more thing: it's completely disingenuous to argue that the administration is duty-bound to uphold the law. It's the truth, but to argue that in favor of the administration's actions is to give the administration credit that it doesn't deserve. When it comes to DOMA, they're just upholding the law, but when it comes to FOIA and investigating possible criminal activity in the last administration, it's at the administration's discretion. We need to just stop playing the Obama administration's game of politics with this obvious double standard, because the argument is a farce.

Thank you for an intelligent article about the issue.

I strongly recommend that those who are so angry first understand how DOJ works relative to cases in our courts. And they should also understand the relationship between DOJ and the President. Headlines that label the DOMA brief filed in Los Angeles as Obama's brief are, frankly, naive.

I would encourage people to read the brief. The discussion focuses almost entirely on the cost to the Federal Government if same sex couples were recognized.

Obama began a dialogue about Federal Benefits, an appropriate response to the defense of DOMA brief.

Although I abhor the brief, I recognize it for what it is. I would ask those of you who are screaming loudly to do the same.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 19, 2009 7:05 PM

Although I abhor the brief, I recognize it for what it is. I would ask those of you who are screaming loudly to do the same.

So do we. It's no more or less than another set of tire tracks on our collective backs, another stab in the back.

No amount of wheedling, excuses or apologias will excuse it or mollify the growing anger in our communities.

As predicted, the Hopey-Changey BS is being replaced by rage. And that's a good thing.

Wayne Besen | June 20, 2009 2:31 PM

You have the nerve to criticize Aravosis for not doing "real work"? What the hell have you ever done for the community except bitch and moan? He's done more in one hour than you have done in you whole career as a pseudo-activist.

Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with him raising funds for his important work. Can I assume you are working for free? If not, you have no room to talk or point fingers. If anything, you should give up a portion of your check to support his real work.

Absolutely pathetic.

Thanks for the comment, Wayne!

Except I can't shake the feeling that I can't listen to you based on your *cough cough* "activist" principles - I am discussing American politics, which requires me to completely ignore American LGBT folk.

Speaking of which, you ready to admit your making things worse for LGBT Jamaicans or are they going to have to start visiting American dentists to get you to listen?

Thank you Wayne.

You were a little too restrained, IMO, though.

WTF is wrong with these imbeciles who keep making excuses for Obama?

Let's assume that the DOJ had to file the brief. As a "fierce advocate for gay rights", one would think that the Dali-Obama would at the very least send a quick message via his Blackberry requesting that DOJ provide a particularly milquetoast defense.

Face it...the cult of personality surrounding Obama is so powerful that we have people defending him when he attacks their very humanity, for fuck's sake. Perhaps after this homophobic nightmare of a presidency is finally over, they'll finally be forced to admit just how delusional they are.

So when exactly are we allowed to be pissed, emotional, and combative? After everything that he has done to (and has not done for) us despite a litany of promises, at what point will this author allow us to be enraged? Does Obama actually have to participate in the gay bashing of a queer 14 year old? I suspect even then, people like this author would be telling us to "work with him"

Pathetic indeed.

I agree with Wayne in terms of John A.'s work- it might be over-the-top or too 'Daddy betrayed me" but he is expressing the feelings of me and many of my friends (all of us veteran activists from the days when demos were the only way to get noticed). And we are dismayed not just on gay stuff- also on issues of transparency, the war, defending Bush torturers, etc....
Politicians do what is politically expedient without the masses banging on the doors.

We need folks on the inside and outside making noise. Any community organizer knows that - Saul Alinsky, the great late community organizer from Obama's hometown said that decades ago.

AmericaBlog has done that and our voices have been heard.

Bill Maher had it right last night- our two party system is made up of a fringe party and a center-right party - we need an unambiguous Progressive Party with shared principles.

Movement Guy | June 24, 2009 12:18 AM

Alex - Thanks for this thoughtful and reasoned post on someone who is increasingly hysterical (Aravosis) and his long history of caring for his rights solely. I stopped reading Americablog after he vocally and constantly threw trans people under the bus.

I'm all for putting the administration's feet to the fire, but if should be done with truth as a central principal. Aravosis had a good argument against the DOJ brief, which many of us recognize was shitty. Instead of focusing on what were obvious problems with the brief, such as the argument that marriage equality will cost the gov't more money, he resorted to ad hominem attacks and name-calling.

I agree with you that a 16-year old marrying (as remains legal in many states with parental consent) is not the same thing as pedophilia, and comparing two cousins marrying (legal in their native country) to incest is a huge leap. Never mind that if two cousins want to marry, it's non of my damn business.

What I can't help but notice is that nearly everyone who is in a tantrum lately is a white, relatively affluent gay man. Perhaps if they spent less time throwing organizations like FEC under the bus and more time building a progressive coalition to advance everyone's rights, we'd finally get somewhere.