Sunday, April 29, 2012

You Can Play Project - an interview with founder Patrick Burke

Burke Family members,
Left to right, Patrick, Brendan, Molly, and Katie Burke. All siblings.


The You Can Play Project
http://youcanplayproject.org/pages/staff-and-board

A Conversation with Patrick Burke, a founder of You Can Play
and Gloria Nieto, journalist, Frontiers Magazine, San Francisco Gate


GN: I am talking with Patrick Burke of the You Can Play Project.  Patrick are you considered the founder?

PB: There are three of us who are co-founders. Myself, Glenn Witman who is the president and founder of GForce which is an all gay hockey team in Denver, and Brian Kitts who is a long time sports marketing professional and professor in the Denver area.

GN: Interesting, I never would have thought you would have so much based in Denver.

PB: Well I don’t know if you want the whole back story.

GN: Absolutely, I want it all.

PB: In the wake of losing my brother, I was looking for ways to get involved with something like this.  I had no idea about anything having to do with gay rights. I had no idea who to talk to.  Glenn actually reached out to me to have me moderate an “Invisible Athlete’s Forum” which is a panel discussion that we do in which gay athletes share their stories and experiences growing up as a gay athlete. We have done several of them now with coaches, players with teams and they are great.

He asked me to moderate one in Denver. So I went out to Denver and thought it was just amazing, the outreach that they do, the forums were something I really wanted to be a part of. So after doing it, I kind of pulled Glenn aside and basically, whether you guys like it or not, you guys are stuck with me because we are about to start doing some work together.

I did a few more of the “Invisible Athlete” forums and continue to do those. I had an idea for something bigger.  I had the model with “You Can Play” in my head since I wrote it as an article.  I had it in my head and wanted to use it for something. 

Glenn brought in Brian who was, at the time, a professor of sports marketing at Denver University.  The three of us talked about a few different ways to do it or whether we should give it to another major gay rights group or if it was something to try other ways to handle.  Eventually we said screw it, we’ll do it ourselves.

GN: How long ago was that?

It was almost a year ago to the day to be honest with you. The first time we had the discussion when we said basically screw it let’s do it ourselves was right around April 30 of last year. We presented at the American Association of Hockey Coaches convention in Naples, Florida.  That day in the hotel we were talking about it. We had talked about giving it to different groups whether it was GLAAD or GLSEN or HRC or something like that. It was right around April 30 when we said let’s see if we can do it ourselves.

GN: You have to be thrilled with the amount of positive response you have gotten from this so far. Amazing videos, big names getting behind this right away, obviously you have spent some time getting ready for this roll out.  Also it helps having your last name and having your credentials in the NHL so I am just wondering, did you approach guys individually? Did you have a team that did outreach?

PB: The original way we did it, we set up an advisory board.  The first two NHL guys we talked to were Tommy Wingels of San Jose and Andy Weile of Phoenix who were both at Miami University when Brendan was there. Both had reached out to our family in the past saying I want to do something, please find a way to get me involved. We reached out to the two of them and they hopped on board immediately, which was great.  Then we spoke with the NHL office to get permission to speak to the various teams. Then we sent an email out through my father to the other 29 NHL general managers letting them know what we were doing.  The basis of the project, we were what we stood for and asking players to participate in the project.

Like you said, having the name of Burke is helpful. The players knew we were on their side. We weren’t going to put them in positions where they might be uncomfortable or get asked questions that they weren’t fully educated about.  They knew we would take care of them.  That was something they believed in so we started getting responses from players within about 48 hours. Players were committing to appear in the video.

GN: Can I just say, holy shit.

PB: Pretty cool right?  Pretty nerve wracking! When we sent out the email I was going to law school and in finals. So when I wasn’t living in the library I was at the rink. I was sitting in the library and was cc’d on all the emails.  So I was seeing all the emails go out, one at a time, Dear Bob to Bob Murray in Anaheim and Dear Steve to Steve Yzerman in Tampa Bay.  I was thinking if this doesn’t work I am screwed. 

They all went out. Then I remember I was sitting in the library doing some work and we got the first email back from a player saying absolutely, it is something I want to do just tell me what to do and when. 

It was a pretty emotional moment. It was great!

GN: I have noticed recently on Twitter that you are linking to It Gets Better. You are making more of a connection with folks who have done It Gets Better  videos. You have collegiate teams who are signing on and making videos.  Oh and by the way, thanks for putting our Sharks video up on the web page.

PB: I thought it was great.

GN: (bragging a little) That was my idea.  Emily Hall and I were shooting the bull one night and I said ‘Well let’s make a movie!’ So over the course of two games, we were down there, she had written the script, I did the fine tuning on the script, she did all the tech part and the next thing you know she is sending it out so thank you!

PB: I loved the guy who was wearing the shirt that said “I only look illegal.” That cracked me up.

GN: I thought that was perfect. That was me in the Sharks jersey with Jumbo in back of me on the tv.

PB: I had assumed you were in it.

GN: So anyway back to my questions, do you have It Gets Better folks approaching you and wanting to jump on the bandwagon? Are you making some concerted efforts to reach out to other projects who are working along the same lines?

PB: We have heard from other groups, not specifically It Gets Better.  We are very careful to narrowly tailor our mission.  We only do sports. We don’t do anything else for numerous reasons. So for that reason there have been groups that have reached out to us and we work with and provide information. But we will not join an official partnership because their groups are so much more all encompassing than what ours is.

We find when we deal with athletes, whether there are supportive of the whole package of gay rights, marriage equality, workplace equality, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell which I know has been repealed, those type of things. Many, many athletes are supportive of that but they don’t want to deal with it.  For lack of better terms, they don’t want to be in a locker room after a game and have someone stick a microphone in their face and say  “What do you think about the latest gay marriage proposal?” For the same reason they don’t usually speak out on any political or moral issue.  It’s just not something that athletes generally do. There are exceptions, of course.

We find that by narrowly tailoring our mission statement, what we ask athletes to say and support, we find that athletes are far more willing to step up and join us. All we ever ask for an athlete to say they he or she would support a gay teammate. That he or she would treat their teammates with respect and dignity.  If they want to get involved more beyond than that then we are happy to direct them to the proper groups who are doing that work.

GN: What you are saying makes total sense in terms of, like you said, having someone put a microphone in their face and asking them a question.  I think this is why Tim Thomas generated so much controversy so quickly. In my mind that was just something that you just don’t see.

PB: The athletes, for lots of reasons, are very wary of speaking out on any political issues most of the time. You see when athletes do speak up, for whatever side it is, whether it is a very liberal position or very conservative position what happens,  whether it is Steve Nash speaking up for  gay marriage or Tim Thomas saying I am not going to the White House because I don’t believe in President Obama’s policies.  You see whatever side they are on, they get a heavy amount of criticism that distracts them from their job.  We think of this as a sport but for them it’s their career. For the most part, whatever their point of view, they don’t want to get involved. Again, I am speaking generally because there are hundreds of examples of athletes who want to get involved.

We set out from the beginning we believe there are hundreds of groups who do wonderful work for gay equality, for LGBT equality in all different arenas of life and society. We decided right from the start that we were going to be sports only and safe locker rooms only. We have had some criticism from people who think we are not being aggressive enough. But we think it is the most productive way to reach out and get the players involved.

GN: So to me, granted I have never been in a men’s locker room, either pre or post game even though my training is as a sport journalist. But back in those days women did not go into the locker room. So it is left to my imagination what goes on in there.  But in women’s locker rooms, from my experience in women’s locker rooms, hockey locker rooms, nobody batted an eye about changing in a room with lesbians.  Right? We are putting our gear on and just chit chatting about whatever.  So my experience is not that homophobia is an issue in women’s locker rooms.  Do you have a different perception of that?

PB: From the female athletes we have talked to while getting this project going and having people reaching out to us, if you asked most male athletes to rate the homophobia in their locker room, I think you would hear them say a five to seven with most of being what we call casual homophobia, the use of homophobic slurs. If you asked most female athletes to rate the level of homophobia in their locker rooms, you either get a zero or a ten. So we talk to female athletes when we do outreach to colleges, and hear from sports teams, from the women’s sports teams and they say we have five lesbians on our team and it is not an issue at all. 

And you go, well that’s great. But we talk to other sports teams and they go our locker room is horrifying.  Now I hate to sound sexist and generalizing but women get mean and vicious. And you talk to lesbian athletes who are afraid to come out and they are talking about horrifying situations where they are being bullied into staying in the closet by their straight teammates. Where as in the guy’s locker room it will be more like “oh don’t be gay” and that kind of language.  But in women’s locker rooms they can get really bad. 

So it is interesting to see the different dynamics between the men’s and women’s sports whether it is a zero or a ten in the women’s locker room and I talk to coaches a lot and they can say “We have no problem. We have had lesbian athletes come through her for years and never had a problem.” 

Then you talk to other coaches and they say “Our locker room is out of control, we need help. We don’t know what to do.”

GN: I am thinking of a college situation. The women’s basketball coach at Penn State made homophobic remarks to her team.  I am sure they have a non-discrimination policy there and she got fired. Penn State was sued and they lost because of this coach.

There are also issues of college recruiters trying to sway recruits against going to a rival college by suggesting that there are lesbians at that rival school so they shouldn’t go there.

PB: We have heard that there is a school in Idaho, where the women’s basketball coach was being negatively recruited against. We have also heard similar things in men’s sports, where some coaches have said “Oh they welcome gay players there. You don’t want to go there.” 

In my mind, any coach that has to resort to that, they are so clearly out of their element, so clearly incompetent that they probably should not be working with anyone. 

GN: It doesn’t say much about the quality of their program if that is what they have to resort to.

PB: On the Flyers, we never say, “Don’t go to this other team, they’re terrible.”  We sit down and talk about the strengths of our program are, what the Philadelphia Flyers can do for you.  And that’s it.

If the player wants to come, that’s great.  We would never say don’t go to New York, they are such an awful franchise. Obviously that isn’t true but we wouldn’t say it. We’re confident enough in what we do.

If there are college coaches out there that have to resort to that, well, if I was a player and heard that, I’d just walk out.  Not because not only it is horribly offensive but that is one coach admitting to a player, I can’t beat that coach. Straight up.

GN: So then I am wondering, one of your players was involved in a controversy at the beginning of the season, Wayne Simmonds, saying something to Sean Avery.  The league didn’t respond.

PB: The league did respond. This is what gets lost.  It got lost in the white noise that came out afterwards.  I have talked with numerous people about this.

The league issued a statement, unequivocally, that from this point forward, any homophobic slurs would be considered the same as racists slurs. Players will then be punished accordingly.

The only reason that Wayne Simmonds did not get punished is because no one on the ice could or would confirm what he said.  The NHL has a long standing policy against lip reading. The league has a long standing policy that the only way to suspend someone for something said on the ice, is if an official can confirm that the words were used.

The linesmen who were holding Wayne, the referees who were standing right there, no one could confirm what he said.  The NHL issued, this year, a very strongly worded statement, stating that, putting everyone else on notice, that going forward, this *&%$ won’t fly.  If players are going to use those words, they are going to get suspended.

GN: Well thanks for correcting me on that.  I didn’t catch that. I do my best to pay attention to all the little details, and I sure didn’t catch this.

PB: Well for obvious reasons I was intimately involved in the whole process.  I certainly got a lot of grief when I had people say “Oh well you are such an advocate for gay rights meanwhile you’ve got a player on your own team who did this. I have to explain it to them over and over.

If any official on the ice had said Wayne Simmonds, if anyone could confirm that Wayne Simmonds used the word faggot towards Sean Avery, he would have been suspended.

Me: Well Avery is not exactly a sympathetic character to try and rally behind. But thank you for that clarification.

PB: There was a great statement by Colin Campbell, the vice president of the NHL.

Campbell’s quote 

"To the extent we become aware of additional information conclusively establishing that an inappropriate slur was invoked, we are reserving the option to revisit the matter," Campbell said.
"All players, coaches and officials in the National Hockey League deserve the respect of their peers, and have the absolute right to function in a work environment that is free from racially or sexually-based innuendo or derision," Campbell said in the statement. "This is the National Hockey League's policy and it will remain so going forward."
"It also is important to emphasize that the National Hockey League holds, and will continue to hold, our players to higher standards with respect to their conduct both on and off the ice," Campbell said. "While we recognize that the emotion involved in certain on-ice confrontations may lead to the use of highly charged and sometimes offensive language and commentary, certain lines cannot be crossed.
"We have for many years emphasized to our clubs and players that commentary directed at the race or ethnicity of other participants in the game (or even non-participants), or that is otherwise socially or morally inappropriate or potentially hurtful -- including as it may relate to sexual orientation -- is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated." 
My father released a statement that “Colie” (Colin Campbell) did a great job articulating exactly what the punishment would be, that the NHL wouldn’t tolerate such a thing. Going forward, all our players are on notice about this.

GN: You are right, this got lost in the white noise.

PB: That’s what happened. People were justifiably outraged by the use of the term.  Then when the NHL announced that Wayne would not be suspended, everyone freaked out without reading, ok, here’s why he is not being suspended.  Everyone kind of said, how dare they not suspend somebody?  They didn’t really look in to the reasons for why we can’t suspend him.

But now, going forward, the official rule of the NHL is that homophobic slurs are a punishable offense.

And this goes back to the casual homophobia. Those words are used. We know those words are used. If those words weren’t used, we wouldn’t have had to launch. We wouldn’t have needed to do the You Can Play stuff.

For a long time, and it shouldn’t have been, it was an accepted part of the culture. Then to one day come out and start suspending guys for it, instead of putting everyone on notice?

GN: And doing some education, too.

PB: I don’t want to say it was unfair but it would be like two players got into a fight one day and they both got suspended.  Then the NHL said we suspend guys for fights now. And the response would be, well, wait what?

Now everyone is on notice.  Now I think our players know why they can’t and shouldn’t use those words.  I think incidents like that will be few and far between.

GN: As an example the NHL had Shanahan go around and show videos of hits to all the teams and what is allowed and not allowed.  Everyone knew what to expect.

PB: Exactly. So the league has done that now and our guys know.

GN: So let’s look to the future. Say in five years, an NHL player decides he wants to live his life openly on the ice and off. You will have been instrumental in making that happen. So ultimately would that be one of your goals? Would that be fair to say?

PB: Well first of all, I don’t think it is going to take five years. I think we are much closer than that. Our organizational goal is that all players, at all levels, feel safe coming out. So our goal is that National Hockey League players feel safe to come out. College players feel safe to come out.  Beer league players feel safe to come out.  High school players feel safe to come out. 

Yeah one of our goals is to get where professional hockey players and all other sports, professional athletes, are able and willing to come out and be safe and feel secure. But we are certainly not limited to professional sports.

We would like to see a culture shift in sports, at all levels. When having a gay athlete is no longer a story, that’s what we want.

GN: I can tell you from being in the Tank when Tommy’s PSA is being shown the place gets dead silent.  People are watching it.  There is no uproar over why this is being shown or any outrage.  Fans are taken aback but they are listening and watching.

PB: We have gotten some nice stories about ovations in different cities. It’s not something that historically has been part of going to a game.  I’m not at all surprised when fans are a little confused with what’s going on here. To see a player like Tommy stepping up and act in this role is awesome.  As the players take leadership roles, the fans will follow. The younger ones will follow. 

I know from watching them for years that if they are not already, Shark fans will fall in love with Tommy. Having him on board is great for us. He is a great kid, we are lucky to have him on board.

San Jose fans should also know that other Sharks players have spoken with Tommy about this. They are very supportive. Going forward, Sharks fans can look forward to seeing more players than Tommy come forward. From the sound of it, we might have four or five guys doing PSA’s for us. So for Sharks fans, you will see Tommy but you can look forward to seeing more guys.  He is actively recruiting behind the scenes.

The more we go forward the more we hear from different athletes.  You don’t want to say guys you wouldn’t expect but, you know, with some guys they would be a pipe dream, there’s no way they would ever do it. Guys like that are reaching out to us.  Guys reaching out on Twitter saying how do I get involved? How do I do a video?

It’s pretty cool seeing so many guys in the National Hockey League rally around us and have such strong support.

GN: It gives me a lot of hope. Personally, I have been through a lot as an activist. Hockey is what keeps me going. So I want to thank you for what you are doing, it is going to have such an impact on so many people’s lives. Not everyone can do this and have such a big impact in so many different ways. 

It is a testimony to you but it is also a testimony to your brother.  Sometimes simple bravery is about being able to put your feet on the floor in the morning. And tell the truth.

I hope there are ways that fans can be helpful.

PB: As we get more of our plans together, get a little more grounded with what we are going to do, I am sure there will be ways for you and other fans to be involved.

We got plans going in to the summer.  The web site itself will have the capability of fans being able to upload their own videos. That we think will get more fans involved in that way.

Looks like there are going to be regional fund raisers. There is going to be one in LA for sure.

As we get in to the fall, looks like we will have our play book, our resource guide for coaches and athletes, schools and fans. We will certainly be mobilizing our friends and allies to get those out to their schools and teachers plus fellow fans and athletes.

GN: I have to compliment you on your knowledge of even the right terminology, saying marriage equality, terms like that.

PB: It took a lot of work, reading a lot of studies, religious articles, educating myself.  I didn’t want to go out and insult the LGBT community by not knowing what you are dealing with.

There are a couple, but not too many groups that have their foot in both camps, sports and LGBT equality.

Me: I like the fact that there is not a bunch of in fighting about this. You are being focused and effective.  Changing the culture is not an easy undertaking.  But I can already see the difference.

PB: We do not do turf wars with anyone.  If there are other groups who do something better than we do then we are happy to step back and play our role. We are not going to fight for resources, we are not going to step on anyone’s toes. If there are things they do better, we are happy to sit on the sideline and watch.  We do not do turf wars.

GN: Well the funny thing to me is that we are all athletes. We are competitive.  Of course we want to do the best we can and we want to win.

PB: Well the thing about me was that I was a lousy athlete.  I had a good work ethic and leadership but when it came game time I was there to sit on the bench and make people laugh.  Now if someone is doing something better than us, I will be happy to sit in the back and make people laugh.

Me: This project, I think, will have a profound effect on all of us. Please let us know ways we can support You Can Play!

Thank you so much for all your time!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Remembering kindness


It is coming up on a year that Phyllis left us. I have had such a hard time dealing with the loss because I don't think I have fully absorbed the loss. No massive shedding of tears, no weeping like I usually do.

Maybe because it was such a long, painful process to watch her suffer I was sad she was leaving but not sad to see the suffering end.

Phyllis was really hard to watch. I was over there a lot helping out. The indignities she had to face were humiliating to a woman who had always been so private and dignified. She was the nicest woman I knew. She was married to a man for a long time who was the meanest man I ever knew. She raised her kids by herself and they all turned out to be very nice adults.

But the end of the story is sad. A long painful death. Thankfully her suffering was ended and I got to say "I love you." She could and did say the same to me.

Many times she told me she felt so safe because I was there with her which seemed odd to me. She was the parent, I had always felt safe with her and the other neighborhood parents. Well not all of them but that is a different story.

I am still floundering for words. Maybe the pain is too deep and I still can't get to the real feelings. So I will just say the truth.

I loved Phyllis Nirva. She was a kind soul who loved her family and friends in a joyful, unique way that made us all feel really special and really loved. Thank you so much.

I hope you are enjoying your time now with Frank Sinatra, Bill Walsh and now Freddie Solomon. I miss you, we all miss you but I am glad you are not suffering any more.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I'm going to try again

I have disappeared from this site since June of 20111.

After a Twitter conversation last night with my brother and padrino of this blog, Andres Duque, I have decided to pull on my big girl pants and get back here.

For many moons I have been posting at other blogs, hoping to have my name in lights. As a competitive softball dyke it has always been in my nature to try and rush to the top of the food chain. Most times I have gotten some satisfaction from it but not so much in the blogosphere. I needed to come back to my roots, as Miss Wild Thing, and talk about whatever is relevant to me. Maybe one or two people will read it, maybe not. That has nothing to do with my truth and the writing of my truth here.

I also think Whitney Houston's death yesterday had a big impact. She was not the icon in my life the way she is for others(I am so sorry for this loss Chris). I have danced many a joyful night away with Ms Whitney. She gave us incredible music and some not so pretty sights into her personal life. There have been loud whispers of her secret life with women. That is really none of my business.

What was obvious to me was that she was sick. Sick in the same way I am sick with addiction. I cannot drink one beer, there has to be more. I can't have a little of a drink, there has to be way more.

But through the help of many many people, I have managed to stay sober for 24 years. One day at a time, I haven't drank or used drugs for entertainment. This is a disease I have. Whitney Houston had the same disease.

There is no proof yet that she is dead because of her alcohol and drug use. People are waiting breathlessly to proclaim her death was due to her inability to have some sort of control. A glaring defect to show how she wasn't perfect, she had flaws like the rest of us. Why do so many want to demonize her?

It is tragic to lose any person to this disease. It is tragic to lose people to cancer too but I don't see or hear fault and blame pointed at people with cancer. Why should that happen?

But there are many fingers pointed at those of us who suffer from addiction, diabetes and AIDS. After all, if we just showed some restraint these things wouldn't happen. If I just stopped drinking Dr Pepper earlier I wouldn't have gotten diabetes. If I exercised more I wouldn't have heart stents now.

Well know what? Health issues happen to everyone. The moralizing around certain diseases is certainly a response by many to prove their own superiority. They didn't get heart disease because they eat right and do everything else just right.

Bullshit.

Shit happens.

We would be a much more gracious people if we wept when someone was lost without judging them, tried to help the poor, took care of the sick and kept our side of the street clean. We are all doing the best we can do, don't judge.

Stay out of my marriage, my womb, my body I didn't invite you in.

So I will offer one up for Whitney today. I know that there but for the grace of God go I. Rest in peace, sister. You did the best you could do. Thanks for the beauty and songs you left as a gift.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Interview with the new director of Equality California

Interview with Roland Polencio

Me: Tell me what your history is? I understand you are Guatemalan.

RP: Yes, I was born and raised in Guatemala. My family was very politically involved. My father was one of those people, he was a small businessman and also a revolutionary. And he wanted to basically get rid of the military dictatorship that Guatemalans had been living with for many decades. So he was killed. I also had another cousin who was 18 when she was killed. My father was disappeared for quite a while until we found his remains.

You know many of my family members went into exile. Some went to Mexico City, Australia, Spain and Vancouver, Canada. Most of them are in Vancouver, Canada and Mexico City now.

My mom was concerned about our safety. She came to the US and she eventually brought us.

The US was providing military aid to Guatemala at that time. So Central Americans were not really eligible for political asylum so when I came here I was almost 18, I was already an adult.

I eventually went to UCLA. That is when I started to come out as a gay man. You know colleges and universities are the environment where many of us find ourselves. Also I got a sense of what being a Latino in the US was. Obviously I felt this sharp contrast with my family who were small businesses. We were not rich but we were somewhat prosperous. Basically here there is the sharp discrimination that many immigrants feel that kind of shaped my consciousness and that along that with the fact that I was coming out as gay Latino man really got me to really think about what I wanted to do. About the conversations that people have about both immigrants and LGBT people.

So in 1982, I was one of the co-founders of Gay and Lesbian Latinos Unidos. Which eventually created the leadership that helped to found Bienestar. I don’t know if you know Oscar De La O but he was the founder of Bienestar.

Me: right

RP:A lot of that leadership came out of GLLU and of course, many of them are dead now. Many of them died of HIV and AIDS. I lost, I don’t know, seven out of 10 friends. It was a huge epidemic and it hit the activist community really hard. So it was unfortunate about that, aside from the human suffering, just the pain that the pain the community had.

I can think of Jose Ramirez. He was Newyorican. He was one of those individuals who really involved in the civil rights movement. Many involved with the United Farm Workers. They really had a connection to the civil rights movement. I think that we lost that whole generation. And we lost the consciousness and the solidarity thinking that came along with that.

Me: You know I have also been of the opinion that men of that age. I wouldn’t say my numbers were as high as what you are talking about but definitely, I talk about men who I should be growing old with who are not here anymore. I also think because we all grew up with the feminist movement that there was a lot more solidarity with women.

RP: Absolutely

Me: and being able to operate from basic feminist principles of inclusion and equality, that losing so many of that generation, there was a loss of transferring that information, those principles and experience to younger men.

RP: So the hand off in terms of certain values, the basic tenets of the solidarity movement, that whole notion of interconnection and intersecting movements was lost, we lost a lot of that.

I don’t think we have analyzed the huge impact that the loss of that generation has had on the movement and where we are now. I can think of Frank Mendiola who was a farm worker child. He was raised in the farms and he became a union activists. He was the one who organized the Gay and Lesbian Center. He was like 24 and he was organizing the biggest LGBT institution.

So that is part of my history.

In the late 80’s I founded VIVA along with other friends. That was basically and LGBT artists organization.

Me: And then you are a founder of HONOR PAC too?

RP: No, I am not a founder of HONORPAC. I am on the advisory board.

Me: Oh OK.

RP: The main thing about VIVA is that so many of our gay brothers were dying that we created that organization to make sure that we kept their art and memories alive.

One of the impetus for that is that so many gay Latino men were dying we got Latinas and Latinos involved and to really promote our art and the expanded consciousness that comes along with that. So that went on for like four or five years.

Then I went to work at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. I was the vice president and chief of operations. Between being a consultant and a full time employee, I was there about eight years.

And then I went to La Clinica MonseƱor Oscar Romero. I was the Executive Director there. I was the E.D. for four and a half years.

After that I started my philanthropic work with the foundations. I became the senior program officer at the California Endowment.

Now I have been appointed as the next Executive Director of Equality California.

Me: Well that is quite the story.

RP: It’s a lot.

Me: You’ve gotten a lot done.




Me: The Prop 8 campaign did not turn out the way we wanted it to. I am curious what you were able to do at that time. How were you able to help?

RP: I think I am one of those people who wish we had done more. I also know that there were a lot of blind spots. Things that campaign could have done a lot better. We all have learned a lot of lessons from that. I think that one of the lessons we learned was that we have to talk to the people.

You know we can’t do these things in a vacuum. WE have to have these one to one conversations in all kinds of community and all kinds of languages. We also have to understand that our opponents are very organized and very powerful and they have a lot of money. They have basically built in infrastructure of churches that are not on our side that they can turn on and turn off. So I was one of those people who was not as involved.

I think it is important to acknowledge that. I gave some money and made some phone calls. I remember on election day I was educating voters. It was outside the voting booths within the legal limits. I was out there for about 10 hours. At the end of the day, they wanted to arrest me. I was definitely involved.

I was involved in the Obama campaign. I went to Nevada to knock on doors. I was involved in the Obama campaign a lot more than the Prop 8 campaign.

Me: Just in terms of my own experience, I have to say that this campaign definitely scarred me. I have to say this was because of the really bad treatment I got from Equality California and I mean really bad treatment. Here I was running a hunk of the campaign here in San Jose, got talked to like I was a dog. Talked to incredibly disrespectfully, couldn’t get any resources. I would get resources from people in other counties. I would drive to Santa Cruz to get yard signs. You know that is now way to run a campaign.

There was an evening when some of the labor folks had brought hotel maids to help with phone banking. We did not have a Spanish script. So they were reduced to emptying the garbage cans and cleaning up. I was crying and crying and crying that night. I still apologize to the union people for that.

Then campaign staff person says that they have to check on any scripts to make sure they are culturally competent. Of course! My response in my head though was fuck you, fuck you for treating my folks like this.

I worked with Luis (Lopez, currently a candidate for state Assembly) to get window signs in Spanish. We generated these signs and offered to folks in San Francisco. We also got them done in Vietnamese, too. We got them out all through San Jose.

I offered them to San Francisco and never heard a word. Nothing.

RP: That should have never happened.

Me: No!!!

RP: Those are stories of things that should have never happened. By the way, my activism was with HONOR PAC, not necessarily with the bigger campaign.

Me: But why did HonorPAC have an office in LA, the were the only ones with an office in LA?

RP: They got some space from Supervisor (Gloria) Molina.

Me: I know but I am just saying that the campaign never opened up anything in LA.

RP: Correct. There was a relationship. If we go back in 2012, which is going to be a daunting task, these things need to be in place.

Me: Well this brings me to my next question. What can you do to heal what has happened between the campaign and Equality California? As much as I am enjoying talking to you now, there is a trust issue that cannot be solved in one phone call. I have other people who are waiting to see and hear this interview. My relationship with Equality California, and the is just one activist who has good credentials. I have knowledge but was never allowed to the table.
So I have two questions. What are you going to do to heal this gigantic rift which first of all needs to be recognized? But second, how can you change the perception in the state? Because you have a board where you have to pay to play. It is not representative. As much as I love Dolores (Huerta), she is not my representative. To me there are problems in terms of communication and representation.

RP: No, those are real issues. I think the fact that I have been involved in the community for so long I understand some of the issues. I want to meet with people. I want to hear what people have to say. I want to have a conversation. How do we integrate activists more in to the organization and figure out a way so that is a part of what we do?

The reality is that we don’t have a common conversation. We don’t have a language we can in some ways that we can converse around. You know what I am saying?

Me: Yes

RP: So we are going to have create that, little by little or however it is. There’s a question of access. Who has access, what kind of resources? What kind of decision making? I think that is going to be an issue that we really have to think about.

The other thing is I really want to create a different framework in terms of how we approach our community engagement. By that I mean we need to take up issues that matter to all of our communities. So for instance, health care. I have been involved in health care. We have to expand our notion of what community issues are. I think marriage is definitely an important issue. It is a critical one.

In addition to it being a civil rights issue, it is an economic issue. We know that families that are legally protected also have a better chance of being economically stable, especially those families with children. So we have to frame this as a civil rights issue but as an economic justice issue.

We need to take up other issues that hugely impact our communities and I mean all our communities. Health care is definitely one. Access to affordable health care is a big issue in our community. We have an opportunity with health care reform to create alliances and to create coalitions that have one goal. That one goal is to create access to affordable health care.

Right now the state of California got $10 billion to do a program over the next three years called Bridge to Reform.

Me: I am on the board of the Santa Cruz Women’s Health Center so I am really aware of that program.

RP: So you know that one of the goals is to enroll 500,000 people before 2014. I think we need to be part of those efforts. We need to demonstrate our competence in other areas that impact. That’s one approach that I think is going to help to definitely start creating coalitions.

Health care will impact women, people of color, single gay men, married LGBT couples. I mean you name it. There are close to 7 million Californians who do not have health care. I mean that’s a huge number of people affected. This is rich with opportunities for coalition work and to provide palpable benefits to our communities.

Another one is education. There are issues I need to vet with the board. We know that education is the big equalizer or at least has the potential to be.

We also know that having access to higher education is a seminal experience for LGBT people. Most of us came out in college where we were able to get away from our families a little bit, from our traditional settings, rural, urban, what have you. We started to find people like us, people we could relate to in a number of ways. So for many of us, we came out in college. Obviously, kids are coming out a lot earlier.

Aside from the fact that it is an economic justice issue to have access to an affordable, quality education, it is also part of our movement. It is where we shape our identities as activists many times. So this whole thing that is going on with the community colleges, 400,000 fewer students are going to be able access community colleges in the fall of 2011. I think that is like a stake through the heart of our movement. That means 400,000 fewer students are not going to have access to an education. This will have an economic impact and I think this is an economic justice issue.

But also in terms of activism, it really will deplete our troops. We have to start linking these things. We have to start looking at the fact that all these things are connected. All these things impact us in terms of civil rights and economic justice.

The other thing is I think, that and the reason why I am saying civil rights and economic justice we have to create a movement that is not only about civil rights. It is definitely about civil rights. But it is about economic justice. If we don’t take care of the economic justice part of it, we will have an incomplete civil rights movement.

I think that one of the reasons why we still have a Latino underclass and an African American underclass and poor, white underclass is because we haven’t really dealt with the issues of economic justice. I think we need to go beyond the civil rights issues.

Me: You are making me cry. This is where so many of us live, having a commitment to full social justice. When the Arizona law first got passed,(SB 1070, anti-immigrant bill) I wrote something for Karen’s blog (lgbtpov.com). I just got attacked with people saying immigration is not an LGBT issue. I am just wondering, what are you going to do? I don’t know that the organization is prepared.

RP: By the way, I don’t start the job until July 5th so I am just starting to figure these things out. But I know for a fact that they have a Beyond Borders outreach program. Part of that is to start educating the community on immigration issues, to start getting activists sharing with each other and to do coalition work. Equality California got a lot of flak for opposing the Arizona law. They got a lot of hate mail. I think that is a good sign.

Immigration is a civil rights and economic justice issue. We have to frame in that way. It is a civil rights issue because the rights of people are being trampled upon. No human being is illegal. That is such a demeaning and dehumanizing term.

But also it is an economic justice issue. Our economy depends a lot on that labor. We have a consumer society that loves cheap things, inexpensive things. Well, we, in some ways, are conspirators to having undocumented labor. The only way the system can produce what consumers want is if we lower the wages of those people who produce those things whether it is here in the US or outside. And we are saying “Fine.” If all of us benefit from having less expensive food and clothing, from less expensive housing then you can go down the line and document what undocumented labor contributes to the economy. Then we need to take care of those individuals who create those benefits for us.

It is a hard conversation to have but I think we need to have that conversation. I mean the same people who are putting the anti-gay propositions on the ballot are the same people who are anti-immigrant.

So if the gay movement becomes anti-immigrant we are basically strengthening our enemies. We need to be really watchful about that.

We have what I would call a hypocrisy economy where we want the benefits of the hands of the labor, the undocumented labor where we want the hands but not the whole body.

Me: I have a question about the education bill that was moving in Sacramento. I was wondering why there wasn’t more of an effort to educate us about what was going on in Sacramento, the wins in Sacramento? I think the effort was being done just through social networks. I hope you will address that because that is not an inclusive way of communicating. About the wins and the losses. I would like to see more of an effort to educate us and for us to go show and lobby. I would like to have diverse people show up.

RP: We have to figure that out and somehow work on creating a mechanism to have people more involved, more informed with the tool so we can create that movement that we are talking about. I think that will be a real challenge. How do we create that loop with communities and with individuals who want to be involved and make a difference.
We have to look at the legislation. You were asking me about how to get more connected to the community. Of course there is a process. It will not happen overnight. I was giving you a framework and an approach.

Equality California has passed about 71 bills. We need to do an analysis in terms of what does this mean about localities. We need to see if these bills create partnerships with local activists to start implementing those at a local level so that it really has an impact on the quality of life in those communities. It is not going to be in every community but we have the ability to not take over but can be the nervous system, connecting the synergy with best practices. To share what does work, what doesn’t work. To find out what is unique about one place, to know what is not unique about one place. I really want to create that network, that nervous system, that backbone to connecting our California movement a little bit more.

Me: I don’t know that this is Equality California’s job but there seems to be a lot of functioning Latino LGBT organizations in southern California but there is nothing up in northern California. A friend of mine in San Francisco and I tried last year to start a Latino LGBT organization up here. We couldn’t get a fiscal sponsor. We couldn’t get anybody to do that. It just seems like in part of the conversations it seems like it would be a natural fit for you and the rest of the staff could be hooking up people from different parts of the state so we can be having conversations about how do we work, how are we more effective and how to work together to be more united.

And if, oh gawd, we have to go back to the ballot in 2012, what are we going to do? For me, 2012 is too soon anyway.

RP: I have some thoughts. We are in a quandary. We are in a quandary. On one hand we have a Presidential election that gives us an opportunity to get a lot of progressive people out there to vote. Also, we had a bit of a generational shift because we had younger people, we had a number of Latinos become voters. We had a sizeable Latino generational shift.

Then we have Obama saying that he is evolving on the issue of marriage equality. That’s an indication that he might actually come out for marriage equality. We don’t know that but it is putting everyone on notice. They are not challenging DOMA. They were really strong on DADT. This is the holy trinity of issues: marriage, military and DOMA. So this is the only missing piece in that triad of issues. So that’s the opportunity.

The challenges are this election is 18 months from now. We are supposed to have a game plan. We are supposed to have a fund raising plan. We supposed to have our community united, including our allies.

Ninety percent of our pro-equality votes are going to come from our allies. The unions are supportive. The faith based communities, the civil rights organizations. The elected officials, you name it, right? We want to know that those allies are going to be there with us.

The unions have their own struggles going on. They are fighting for their lives. Not as much in California but certainly they are starting to feel the pressure.

Then we have to add this other piece – the lawsuit. Lots of resources have been shifted to that. They have raised millions and millions. Lots of the pro-equality money has already been invested in this lawsuit. They might not be as comfortable funding a ballot initiative in 2012.

This is a very complicated situation where you have tremendous opportunities and tremendous challenges. I think that part of the town hall meetings is to get some of that information but also to have to go outside of our community as well. Like I said, we depend on the 90% or so that are not just coming from our community.

Me: Here, Santa Clara county went for Prop 22 way back when. We flipped this county by like 32 points. I will say because I was outside the campaign that I could run the campaign in a way that I knew was more effective.

RP: So you had your ear to the ground.

Me: Exactly. A lot of people don’t know this about Silicon Valley. But 64% of the population is either immigrant or children of immigrants. We have the largest population of Vietnamese outside of Vietnam. Obviously it was critical that we get things out in Vietnamese. We had people out there talking about it.

That is one of the reasons we were able to change the vote here because of our relationships with the API (Asian Pacific Islander) community. Right now I am working with a group called Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI) to talk about immigration issues here in Silicon Valley. So I am the only non-Asian in the group. But I am doing outreach into the LGBT community, working collaboratively with the biggest Asian group here. So for me that is what it needs to look like – Latinos and Asians working collaboratively in the state of California.

RP: I have just a little more time left. I am just so glad that we connected. We shall continue our conversations.

Me: I have two questions. Three questions. Are you familiar with how some Latinos in New York state are pounding on us against marriage? Reverend Ruben Diaz, who is an elected official in the state house. He is really homophobic. Last week he had a rally.

RP: I have heard of him but I am not as intimately acquainted with him or what he is doing there.

Me: When I publish this on Andres’s blog you should read the other items on his blog. I will forward you the link so you can see what they are dealing with in New York.

I am working with him on this interview because he has a huge Latino readership. He does work in both Spanish and English and monitors the press in Latin America.

The last question I have for you, are you going to be moving up here?

RP: I am going to be based in Los Angeles. But I will be traveling throughout the state.

Me: So then the center of the gay universe will be in WeHo now?

RP: You could say that (laughing). That is one of the things I am looking forward to. I am LA based. I looking forward to working with people around the state.

I went to the Courage Campaign’s training in Fresno. We take so much for granted in LA. I was so moved by the courage and passion of people in the Central Valley. It was like going back to the 1950’s. I was just so impressed with the passion and commitment. That inspired me for months. Well even today. It was very touching. I was very touched.

Me: I am glad to hear that. I have really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you for your time.

RP: Thank you. I am sure we will talk again.

Let's Go Sharks!

Here's something quick and easy you can do. Please pass this on also. I have started a petition on the Change.org web site asking the San Jose Sharks to do an It Gets Better video. Since the Gigantes were the first professional team to make a video (way to go Sean Chapin), the Sharks can be the first National Hockey League team to produce a positive message in the United States and Canada.

The link is here.

Let's go Sharks!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Another light gone out

He left the day after Christmas. The father of eight was always devoted to the kids. I am sure he wanted to see them and all the grandchildren at Christmas and leave after that.

Of course, we won't really know because the dementia had taken his beautiful, loving mind a while ago. Gone were the days when he could read and write, savoring the turn of a phrase, the events of the days and the memories. All the memories were gone.

The house had always been a jumble of eight children, shouts, laughter, meals seated at long benches with powdered milk served with lots of love. Of course it wasn't just their kids, it was the friends, the cousins, the grandparents all those who were enveloped in the arms of this household.

There were the weddings, the coming out, the birth of babies, the graduations. There was the great tragedy when one of the grandchildren died at 16 months. All the chapters of a life, of a family, were all there in the house.

And now the gentle man with the kind eyes, the ready nicknames for all of us, the man who was always willing to listen and laugh, has left us on the day after Christmas. He was so considerate up to the end.

The hole is great in all our hearts, the ones he touched. The sorrow will be there for a long time because we won't see him again with the apron on in the kitchen, washing out all the big pans after making tamales, cooking up the ham for a feast to share. We won't hear his lovely laugh, nor be able to just say hi.

But he is with his grandson who left us too soon, with his beloved father who taught everyone to smoke cigars and be able to defend our opinions, he is with my father and petting my departed dogs. He has gone ahead now.

No more suffering, his mind has been restored in another place. He is holding his grandson, together again.

What a legacy to leave, so much love, so much laughter. So many hearts touched by his life. We know the world has a little less light with his passing. Thank you for your life well lived and loved.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

From the front row in Kabul

This is a letter from a friend who is working in Kabul. She has an extraordinary view from where she sits.

Dear Glo,

Every year we spend billions of dollars working to restore a nation’s dignity, yet with that noble purpose we often fail to separate the needs of a people from the cultural wants of the west. With neither side receiving what it needs or what it wants. In turn we have created almost a vicious cycle of abusive giving that is comparable to force feeding a diabetic sugar or giving a bottle of vodka to an alcoholic. Our nation for its greatness is missing the point and the Afghan people who are dear to my heart continue to suffer because of it and the western need for instant gratification and the notion that money solves all problems continnues to fail.

This is not the fault of the men and women in uniform, the average Afghan going about their daily lives or even many of those involved in legitimate aid endeavors. Often it comes from pressure from large companies who use donor money to put their employees up in $20,000 dollar a month poppy-palaces with a security firm that carries an even larger price tag. Security people who tell everybody the sky is falling in order to keep their contracts and thus their jobs. These companies receive money that they must ‘burn’ in order to keep their contract. In many cases are talking about millions of dollars a day total.

Case in point the Afghan Supreme Court has a budget this year if I remember correctly of eight million United States Dollars it has only been able to burn nearly 800 thousand of that. One international donor wants to commit to 300 million over the next three years. Seriously, the court because of lack of capacity brought on by a thirty-year interruption in the education system does not have the capacity to absorb that amount much less burn it at the donors desired rate. If that 300 million was to be committed over the next thirty years that may be a more appropriate amount of time to allow the proper roll out and evolution of the judicial process. It would also give time for the educational system to catch and capacity to be slowly built. With this in mind using the current burn rate the west is trying to purchase three hundred years of judicial tradition in three years, to me that does not seem logical.

Western donors fail to look at their own history to guide them in the financial process of nation building. 200 years ago the United States was an even younger nation and it had its own set of issues that it has been trying even to this day resolve. The French and the Spanish at that time did not come in and try to retro fit and purchase our system. They for the most part left us alone to build our nation giving appropriate aid when needed and a cadre of well qualified and committed expertise. We need to stop trying the instant soup approach and realize that money builds roads, schools and utilities, but only the hard work and determination of people against advisories great and small truly build a nation.

We The People are frustrated and the Afghan people are frustrated. In order to help bring justice to the people of Afghanistan we must take a cold hard look at how we distribute aid. We must demand a break in the status quo of the apparatus of the major international donors first by looking at our own foreign aid distributer USAID and its underlying, unjust, and abusive funding and reporting polices. More small projects need our support where the Afghan people are involved and not subjugated to the agenda of large ‘ for profit aid organizations’ who are nothing but a front of the corporate machine. Paying off people only creates socio-economic disparities, humiliates the ones who have not and fuels insurgencies.

The aid must be long term because YES the people of Afghanistan need it but they need it for the next thirty years and in more careful and just amounts. Our role as a nations should be that of a steward and not of a company trying to hush the situation by throwing money at it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Liberation for me

I need to liberate myself. I have been involved in liberation movements for the majority of my adult life – lgbt immigration, race, living wage. But today I need to liberate myself from me.

I am 55 years old. I have not had a job for the better part of the last three years so I have no more unemployment. The two federal legislators I talked to at netroots had no idea that there is a group of people who have run out of unemployment.

This terrifies me.

There are now people in the movement who are making gigundous amounts of money for work that I have done for free for decades. This pisses me off. I feel pushed to the side and all the work I have done amounts to nothing because a new generation apparently just invented activism. So all the lessons learned, battles won and lost mean nothing. We are pushed to the side, living in poverty and wondering what will come next. The streets, starvation, stress of unknown proportions?

The truth that liberates me though is this: there is nothing I can do about it. I am completely and totally powerless.

The movement will continue without me and others who have come before who have won and passed laws, won and made lives better, won and gave hope. I can’t do anything about it.

Except tell the truth.

I am afraid.

So with this confession, I have to say that whatever amount of money people are making in whatever large amounts those are, all of that is none of my business. When I get obsessed with what other people are doing it is because I am afraid for my own future and what will become of me. When I focus on others I don’t have to look at what has become of me.

But the truth is also that this hurts my feelings, a lot. I am friends with a lot of people around the country. It really makes me sad that so many things are happening and no one invites me and my peers anymore for our thoughts or ideas. I am old news, literally.

Those of us in the 50+ age range can’t get jobs, are losing all we have built up over the years and are struggling with the world as it has become. Nothing is fair. (Not that life ever was fair. When we lost so many of our brothers we were very clear that life wasn’t fair.)

So now that I am liberating myself, I hope to breathe a little easier, think a lot more about those around me and less on people and things that are none of my business.

In the meantime keep your fingers crossed that there are more jobs for people everywhere. All our ships will rise together.

From Netroots Nation



This includes a video taken by the folks who staged an action at lunch at Netroots one afternoon. The action was effective and showed an ugly side of the progressive movement that many of us know already, white privilege. The video includes lgbt people.
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