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in the news/4

Volume 15/Issue 26

NYC Clash on Recruitment Site

Openly gay New York City Councilmember Tom Duane (D-L-Manhattan) is using his position as chair of a subcommittee on private use of public space to take aim at a venerable military recruitment center in a controversy that climaxed in a public hearing December 16. The center, opened in 1946, was the first in the U.S. to recruit for all four branches of the military, and while it was an entry point for thousands in the Korean conflict - and the target of numerous anti-war demonstrations in the Vietnam years - a total of only 150 people enrolled there last year. Meanwhile, the Times Square traffic island it occupies has become one of the choicest bits of real estate in the city, causing the director of the Times Square Business Improvement District to join Duane to the extent of wanting to relocate the 360-square-foot booth to create open space for a growing crush of tourists. Duane wants to eliminate it altogether, claiming that giving the military free use of the land violates the city's policy against doing business with organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

Duane's campaign has drawn vehement opposition from many who are suddenly speaking of what's little more than a shack as if it were a shrine. Moreover, Duane's proposal has absolutely no support from Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has the last word on the question and has chosen to frame it in terms of his pride in the U.S. military.

The hearing room was packed with a crowd that was quick to loudly applaud and boo claims of gay bashing and "military bashing," free speech, and patriotism. Opposing Duane was Councilmember Israel Ruiz (D-Bronx), who himself enlisted with the Marines at the Times Square booth in the 1960's. Ruiz told two gay military veterans who spoke at the gathering that their private lives "shouldn't be flaunted," claiming that gays were seeking "better" treatment than others from the military. He later told the "New York Daily News" that he opposes all discrimination, but that the hearing had been strictly a ploy to advance the "gay agenda" and was a waste of public funds.

One of the gay vets suggested that the recruitment center be turned into a public restroom, but Cale Lehman, president of the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Veterans of New York said he had "very mixed feelings" about removing what he called "a symbol."

Transsexual Singer Irks Rabbis

A selection committee appointed by the Israel Broadcasting Authority on November 24 chose male-to-female transsexual Dana International to represent the nation at the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest, to the dismay of Orthodox Jewish leaders of the far-right Shas Party. Selection Committee Chair Gil Samsonov said that Dana's song "Diva" was "far and away the best" of 33 entries considered, and believes her transsexual status might even be an edge in the contest Israel has lost so many times before. He said, "We should be seen as a liberal, free country that chooses songs on their merits, not on the basis of the body of the man or woman." Nonetheless the Shas Party's representative on the Israel Broadcasting Authority board, Gaby Butbul, said that he'll try to intervene to change the selection to what he called a "consensus" candidate. Dana's manager Ofer Nissim anticipated the opposition but said, "I believe the broadcasting authority will give usall the support we need."

Most vocal against Dana has been Shas Party Deputy Health Minister Rabbi Shlomo Ben-lzri, who believes that gender reassignment surgery is "worse than an act of sodomy." He said, "The Eurovision Song Contest interests me about as much as the weather in Antarctica. But as a son of the Jewish people this offends me. The choice is disgraceful for me as a Jew. The Jewish people have always been a light unto the nations. They will now be a darkness unto the nations. Everyone abroad will say: 'Look at those Jews and what they are sending to perform, some kind of crossbreed.' Dana is an abomination. Even in Sodom there was nothing like it."

Dana has been performing for seven years. She was born Yaron Cohen in Tel Aviv to a working-class Yemenite-Jewish family and underwent gender reassignment in 1993. She enjoys singing in Arabic as well as in Hebrew, French and English. Her manager claims her albums have sold a half-million copies in Cairo alone. She came close to representing Israel at this past year's Eurovision, her rendition of "Layla Tov Eropa" (Good Night, Europe) came in second at the 1995 Kdam contest, and at least one radio station's audience selected her as female singer of the year. She told the "Jerusalem Post" that, "People in Israel don't know what drag is, they don't know how to appreciate it - it is a very primitive country sometimes."

This is not the first time that she has drawn the attention of Orthodox rabbis: previously they had solemnly determined that it would be all right for men to listen to her as long as they knew she was a "male;" the same rabbis believe it is improper for men to listen to singers who were born female.

Larsen Blames Gay Activists for AIDS

In the pantheon of anti-gay AIDS diatribes, syndicated columnist Leonard Larsen's December 7 column, "Gays Still Mostly Responsible for Ongoing AIDS Epidemic," will earn its own plaque on the wall with its specious reasoning, outdated statistics and blame-laying. Larsen's column, which was written in response to World AIDS Day, maintains that "gay activists" have hidden the "real" culprits behind HIV (i.e. gay people) by pushing pictures of women and children to the forefront. The columnist goes on to point to a Washington, DC ceremony where President Clinton delivered a message to young people encouraging them to "keep yourself safe," and to a HIV-positive six-year-old girl who read a statement which said, in part, "AIDS can affect everyone, but so can ignorance." Larsen sees these as examples of deflecting blame from the gay community, whose "ceaseless gay-bar hopping and orgies of anonymous gay sex ... helped launch the epidemic." He goes on to say that "gay activists seem to have successfully sold [the idea] that AIDS is a no-fault epidemic, not associated with any segment of society or sexual conduct [...]," and that with the cooperation of the media and politicians, "leery of offending a loud, affluent and demanding constituency," assist the gay community in "erasing evidence." In his closing sentence, Larsen makes explicit what he only hinted at prior to that: "the responsibility-the blame-for the ongoing epidemic is still theirs [gay activists]."

Larsen's scapegoating of the gay community for the HIV epidemic is nothing new. His ignorance of the changing face of AIDS is nothing new either: those who are simply looking for an excuse to hate the community have a ready excuse in a virus which, obviously unknown to the writer, has become the fourth leading cause of death for women between the ages of 25 to 44; has been diagnosed in 7,902 children under the age of 13 as of June 30, 1997; has now become more prevalent in communities of color than in white communities; and is primarily transmitted heterosexually in other regions of the world. Larsen's willingness to put aside reality in his quest to pillory the lesbian and gay community detracts from the very real issues facing people with AIDS: access to health care, treatment and research initiatives, a vaccine and the continuing societal ostracization of those with HIV. It's also incredibly insulting to those women and children who are living with HIV-Larsen paints them as patsies of "homosexual activists," unwittingly used to further an agenda which exists only in Larsen's head.

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