State's Pride festivals knock Schwarzenegger
by Matthew S. Bajko
In 2004 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger became the first Republican to follow in the footsteps of former Democratic Governor Gray Davis by recognizing the state's Pride events. Ever since, he has issued letters each spring welcoming people to the state's various Pride parades and celebrations.
At the time, LGBT leaders praised the governor for acknowledging the Pride events and bucking the precedent set by past Republican governors Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian. But after vetoing a progay marriage bill in 2005, the governor faces a more rancorous reception this year.
San Francisco residents voted to give him their Pride celebration's "Pink Brick" Award for being the LGBT community's top enemy in the last 12 months. The boards of several LGBT Pride festivals reacted with howls of laughter and derision toward the governor's 2006 Pride letter, in which he praises the fight for LGBT civil rights. Some Pride programs went to press without printing the letter while several Pride boards printed it but wrote letters of their own published alongside it.
The governor's letter reads in part, "Your mission serves to increase awareness and further civil rights for all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation" and ends with Schwarzenegger offering his "best wishes for every continued success." Such sentiments ring hollow, said pride executives, considering the governor's continued opposition to same-sex marriage and his recent stand against teaching gay history in the state's public schools.
"I am glad he at least is sending a letter. I've got to give him credit for that," said Joey Cain, president of the San Francisco Pride board. But Cain added, "I think it does ring fairly hollow, given his actions."
Attendees at San Francisco's Pride festival next weekend and San Diego's event in July will find rebuttals to the governor's letter in both celebrations' programs. The responses lash out at Schwarzenegger for his veto of the same-sex marriage bill, and in the words of San Francisco's Pride board, his "harmful actions taken against the LGBT community in 2005."
San Francisco's board did commend the governor for signing several progay bills into law last year, but stated, "these good acts do not exonerate" him for "his bad acts." The letter also hopes for the day when Schwarzenegger can be a "true friend" to the LGBT community and not a "fair-weather friend who flees from our side at the first sign of the media to keep his intolerant supporters happy."
Because Schwarzenegger, who has never participated in a Pride parade, won the Pink Brink this year, Cain said event organizers invited him to speak but have yet to receive a response.
San Jose's official Pride program, printed as part of the June issue of OutNow magazine, did not include Schwarzenegger's letter, nor did Santa Cruz's Pride program, which went to press for the second year in a row sans any word from the governor.
Annie Kretowicz, president of the San Jose Gay Pride Celebration Committee, said the omission of the letter was not intentional, and that the committee invited Schwarzenegger to attend last Sunday's event. A new team recently took over the magazine, and Kretowicz, who became the first woman to head the pride committee this year, said she didn't recall receiving the letter. But after being read it, she said she would like to address it in an upcoming issue of OutNow .
"For me personally, it is no longer acceptable to remain silent," said Kretowicz. "We have to step forward; we cannot be complacent."
Merrie Schiller, Santa Cruz's Pride coordinator for the past 15 years, said the board opted not to print the letter last year due to Schwarzenegger's nonsupport of gay marriage. This year she said she never received the governor's letter, and even if she had, it would not have been used.
"It is really pushing it to use a letter from a governor who is with us when it is convenient and not with us when it isn't convenient. We prefer to celebrate people who are truly our allies," said Schiller. "We don't have a whole lot of space and time for the rest of them."
The governor is unfazed by the reaction to his letter this year, said Sabrina Demayo Lockhart, Schwarzenegger's deputy press secretary, who defended his record on promoting LGBT rights.
"The governor and his administration has taken significant steps for equality for all Californians. The governor supports California's domestic partnership laws and believes same-sex couples are entitled to equal protection under the law," said Demayo Lockhart. "The governor always likes to focus on the positive, and as he says in his message, he commends efforts to encourage cultural tolerance."
Asked about the governor's invitations to the Pride events, Demayo Lockhart said he could not attend San Jose's because he was at the Western Governor's Association Conference last weekend and was unsure if his schedule allowed for him to come to San Francisco's event.
She added that, "We are always willing to meet different groups and reach out to various communities."
Jeff Bissiri, director of Log Cabin Republicans California, a group representing gay Republicans, argued no matter people's personal views of Schwarzenegger, the Pride programs should include his letter.
"Issuing the Pride letter is an important statement from the governor. It is a message to the entire community. These Pride events are put on for the entire community and it is important for the governor's message to the community to be published," said Bissiri.
While he took exception with those Pride boards that did not print the governor's letter, Bissiri had no problem with those that printed responses. Log Cabin supports marriage equality, and it too, was "very disappointed" when Schwarzenegger vetoed the gender-neutral marriage bill, he said.
"It is their right to state their opinion," said Bissiri of the Pride boards. "It is a more appropriate response than not printing [the letter] at all."
The president of the San Francisco Log Cabin chapter, Joel Springer, however, did take issue with the local Pride board's response, calling it more of a "tantrum" than a political statement. He said he saw the governor's veto of the marriage bill as a shrewd political move that did more good than harm.
"I think it misunderstands politics. Politics is the art of the give and take. If he had signed it, it would have been repealed by the evil people who would have gotten it on the ballot to repeal it," said Springer, who noted his group will still staff a table at the Pride festival in spite of the letter flap. "He wrote a letter in good faith and they are nitpicking against political realities. If he had signed the bill there would have been several propositions on the ballot that would have closed the door forever on everything, not just marriage."
San Francisco Pride organizers said it is the first time they have published such criticisms against a governor and hope Pride-goers take the time to think about where Schwarzenegger stands on issues of grave concern to the LGBT community. The anti-Arnold messages come as Schwarzenegger ramps up his re-election campaign and after Democrats this month picked state Treasurer Phil Angelides, who has pledged to sign into law legislation making same-sex marriage legal, as their gubernatorial candidate.
Lindsey Jones, executive director of San Francisco Pride, said her board decided it would be better to publish the letter and a response to it in order to educate participants on how the governor poses a roadblock in the fight for LGBT rights.
"The decision was made because we thought it would do more good in terms of awareness of LGBT issues to have our response side by side with the governor's letter so people can read about it and talk about it rather than not have the letter in, in which case no one would be talking or dialoging about it," said Jones.
San Diego Pride went one step further and published the governor's address and fax number, encouraging people to contact him and express their disappointment in his veto.
"The most important thing we wanted to do is motivate our community to respond to the governor directly. We certainly appreciate the letter that came through. We are reprinting the letter in our program and saying we appreciate what he has done for the community so far by signing eight out of 10 pieces of legislation that is LGBT or AIDS-related, but we are sharing with our community respectfully that he needs to put aside excuses and stand behind a doctrine that promotes equality not inequality," said Ron deHarte, executive director of San Diego LGBT Pride. "We have a firm belief that there is a lot to gain through proactive dialogue with the governor or any other politician with an office door that is at least semi-open on our issues."
Schwarzenegger's letter was scrapped from Sacramento's Pride program, but not for political reasons, said Dan Roth, director of the city's Lambda Center, which produces the capital's Pride event. Roth said a volunteer decided – without organizers' approval – to pull what they considered to be a "form letter" from the event's program in favor of a full-page ad.
After apologizing for the mishap to Log Cabin's Bissiri, Roth said a decision was made to have blowups of the governor's letter greet revelers at the entrances to Sacramento's pride festival on Saturday, June 10.
"A volunteer made a mistake and made a decision they were not to make," said Roth. "There is a time and a place for politics and that is in November. Pride is a time to celebrate our communities and leave politics at the water's edge. For me, it is not appropriate at all. He is governor of California regardless of how you feel about his decisions."