Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Queer of the Year Conundrum

As I've mentioned before, I'm addicted to a daily check of Joe Jervis's blog, JoeMyGod . He has a relaxed style and experiences across the city of New York that I can only fantasize about having here in Austin. I've managed to catch him a few times on OutQ in the morning on Sirius and that same personality comes across on the air. The next time I get to visit New York, I'm going to have to frequent his haunts in hope of running into him and meeting him.

Currently Joe is running a Queer of the Year poll on his blog with six distinct candidates selected by his panel of judges (other bloggers). I'm having a difficult time trying to decide which one of five I want to win. There is only one candidate I have no desire to see win. Voters are asked to vote for the one who did the most to improve the standing/quality of life for GLBT America. Nominations came from readers of the site and were narrowed down by the panel of judges.

The first candidate he has listed is Laurel Hester. She became known this past year with her deathbed battle to have retirement/pension benefits expanded to domestic partners, not just "married" couples. Her appeal and the groundswell of public support forced the Republican county leaders to give in and extend the benefits to domestic partners about three weeks before she died.

The second candidate, Lane Hudson, gained much more national attention after he anonymously posted emails from Congressman Foley to pages which forced the media to break the story. Hudson has long been a political activist with Democratic campaigns and worked for the Human Rights Campaign (which fired him after he was revealed as the blogger).

The third candidate, Kim Coco Iwamoto, became the first transgendered person to win a statewide election when she was elected to the Hawaii State Board of Education. Somehow this news was not carried in the mainstream media and I have to admit I had not heard of her until her nomination for QOTY.

Candidate number four is the one who, along with Lane Hudson, did more to put the Republicans on their heels leading into the mid-term elections than the entire Democratic party combined. Mike Jones rose to fame just weeks before the election with his exposure of Ted Haggard, the Colorado mega-church anti-gay minister, as a drug-using, gay-escort hiring fraud. Jones was among the advisers President Bush called when devising his anti-gay rhetoric.

The fifth candidate, Rosie O'Donnell, was admittedly selected by the judges just because so many people nominated her from the blog. Rosie remains one of the most obvious gay faces in the media with her recent ascension to a seat on The View, replacing Merideth Viera. She also strives to be a face of the gay family with her partner and the gay-family-friendly cruises she sponsors.

The sixth candidate, Soulfource, is one of the quietest and most unheralded grassroots organizations changing the attitudes towards gays in America by confronting people directly with the bigotry they promote. They began last year touring college campuses that have admissions restrictions allowing access to the college for openly GLBT students. They have also been involved in sit-ins at recruiting stations to challenge the Don't-Ask-Don't Tell policy. The group is made up primarily of young adults who are taking a stand.

The only candidate I don't really support among the six is Rosie O'Donnell. She has on a couple occasions worn her gay badge a little too loosely and after bashing Michael Richard's racial rant, went on her own a few weeks later. While her visibility and activism are good, I don't see how anything she has done this year did anything to promote the GLBT cause.

Mike Jones and Lane Hudson certainly did their last minute hammering of nails into the coffin of Republican majority in the House and Senate. While Jones's actions served to expose the hypocrisy deep within the nation's leadership and Hudson's revelations succeeded in exposing the corruption that went to the highest levels of House leadership, I'm not certain I want either of them nominated for a stamp just yet. Jones spent years as an "escort" who used and had drug connections for his clientele. Hudson, with his experience in politics and abundant free Internet resources for posting blogs, still managed to violate his employer's policies by posting the blog that brought down Foley and ultimately cost Hastert his leadership position among Republicans. Both men's actions took courage and a degree of personal risk. While they certainly played a role in discrediting the powers-that-be, I'm not certain they actually brought down the Republicans dual-handedly.

That leaves a cancer-stricken police officer, a politician, and a group of young adults. All three made a positive change that establishes a precedent for future actions. Hester's victory in gaining benefits, set the pattern for more municipalities to extend survivor benefits to domestic partners. Iwamoto's victory in a statewide election showed that voters can overcome the issue of sexuality and sexual identity and vote based on issues and candidate qualifications. Soulforce's adoption of the strategies of the Civil Rights movement of the '50's and '60's have forced discriminatory institutions to defend their bigotry publicly like none have been called to do regarding GLBT issues.
All three are incredibly worthy, but after debating almost 24 hours, I finally voted for Soulfource. The national work of these courageous young people at a grass-roots level in areas that are most traditionally hostile to GLBT issues is forcing people to look deep within themselves to defend the antiquated ideas about homosexuality. Though many in these conservative strongholds don't like it when confronted with actual facts, the education Soulfource is doing will ultimately lead to national change.
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