Saturday, February 27, 2010

Are Video Games Getting Gayer?

While gay representation in video games is decades behind TV and film -- some argue games haven't yet had their Birdcage, let alone their Brokeback -- a few new games have the potential to change everything.

By Bryan Ochalla

Video games have grown up a lot in the last few years, “but we still haven’t seen the kind of normalization [of LGBT characters and story lines] that we’ve seen in movies and on TV for some time,” laments Brenda Brathwaite, a veteran game designer and the author of Sex in Video Games. “We still haven’t had our Brokeback Mountain moment.”

Actually, it could be argued -- and quite convincingly -- that video games haven’t yet had their Birdcage moment. After all, the few LGBT characters and story lines that find their way into today’s titles tend to showcase stereotypes that haven’t been big-screen staples for a few decades.

Still, gay gamers are given more to work with than they were in the past. Case in point: Persona 4, a role-playing game released late last year for the PlayStation 2. The title features what many consider the first character in a mainstream video game to confront his homosexuality in a realistic and meaningful manner.

Another recent release, Fable II for the Xbox 360, takes things a few steps further by allowing players to hit on, have sex with, and even marry members of the same gender.

“That’s a fantasy that hasn't been fully realized in the real world,” says David Edison, an editor at So not only is the title ahead of the times in terms of video games, “it's ahead of the actual times.”

The medium should make even more strides this fall when Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony is released for the Xbox 360. Although no one outside the offices of developer Rockstar North knows how much gay content will make it into the game -- only the titular Tony is a given at this point -- Edison believes it will be groundbreaking nonetheless.

“Whether they’re gay or straight or black or white,” he says, gamers “will see the word gay every time they look at [the title].”

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

GAY Athletes Get Own Accomidations at Winter Olympics

Oh, Canada! GayWhistler has announced that gay athletes will get their own meeting place in Whistler. The facility will include a meeting area, lounge, TV, and most importantly, a safe place for gay athletes and their friends. This is the first time a specific house has been created based on sexual orientation.

Personally, I think this is a great step to make gay athletes feel more accepted, create common bonds and friendships in the world of sports which rarely touches on the topic of homosexuality beyond a heated slur during the moment of battle.

At first thought, I questioned the need for a safe haven for gay athletes. With the thousands of competitors, I can hardly think of any active out athletes beyond a spattering of figure skaters and a tribe of lesbian softball players. reports that there were only 10 out gay athletes in the Beijing games. Perhaps GayWhistler is banking on the “Field of Dreams” technique that “If you build it, they will come”. With a number of participating countries where homosexuality is still considered taboo, having a safe haven in an already liberal Vancouver could give them that push to accept and embrace their sexuality without the social pressures from their home country.

Although, this is an important step in accepting gay athletes, the ratio of openly gay athletes to total athletes is still alarmingly low. Some, like Judo athlete Lauren Meece, believe that their first priority should be to focus on their goal for gold and that gays should “shut up” so they can focus on winning. Although I can understand that argument, the goal of sporting competition goes beyond a final medal count. The spirit of the sport and the Olympic games is about respect between athletes and teammates, acceptance of political, religious and sexual differences and the emergence of role models sparked by dramatic story lines. Gay athletes are not expected to raise the pride flag higher than their country colors; but the mere appearance and honest participation from a gay athlete plants the seed for a solid gay role model in a land that is often lacking beyond the iconic cliches.

I can just imagine the excitement if a soccer, hockey, or basketball player came out during their playing career. I can hear the ground break and stereotypes shatter when the first sprinter, first boxer, first snowboarder reveals beyond being an elite athlete, they also happen to be gay. How many kids would it teach that embracing their sexuality and fostering their sport are not mutually exclusive?

In a perfect world there would be no need for the Whistler Pride house as the mentioning of a gay athlete would be a by-line in the biography opposed to the headline. In this imperfect world there’s solace that perhaps a safe athlete house will build that foundation of acceptance within sportsmanship. I do wonder how many athletes will take advantage of this house, but sometimes the mere option is enough to get the ball rolling.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Black Cat Bar/Cafe in San Francisco

The Black Cat Bar or Black Cat Café was a bar in San Francisco, California. It opened in 1906 and closed in 1921. The Black Cat re-opened in 1933 and operated for another 30 years. During its second run of operation, it was a hangout for Beats and bohemians but over time began attracting more and more of a gay clientele. Because it catered to gays, the bar became a flashpoint for the nascent homophile movement. The Black Cat was at the center of a legal fight that was one of the earliest court cases to establish legal protections for gay people in the United States. Despite this victory, continued pressure from law enforcement agencies eventually forced the bar's closure in 1964.

The Black Cat opened in 1906, shortly after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. When entrepreneur Charles Ridley acquired the bar in 1911, he turned it into a showplace for vaudeville-style acts. Over the next several years, Ridley and the Black Cat came under increased police scrutiny as a possible center of prostitution. In 1921, the bar lost its dance permit and closed down.[1]

Beats and bohemians
With the repeal of Prohibition, the Black Cat re-opened in 1933 at 710 Montgomery Street,[2] again under Ridley's proprietorship.[1] Sol Stoumen bought the bar in the 1940s.[3] In the early years of Stoumen's ownership, the Black Cat was a center for the bohemian and Beat crowd. William Saroyan and John Steinbeck were known to frequent the establishment, and part of Jack Kerouac's seminal Beat novel On the Road is set in the bar.

Growing gay clientele
While the Beats continued to congregate at the Black Cat into the 1950s, in the years following World War II, more and more gay people began patronizing it. The varied crowds mixed and gay Beat poet Allen Ginsberg described the Black Cat as "the best gay bar in America. It was totally open, bohemian, San Francisco...and everybody went there, heterosexual and homosexual....All the gay screaming queens would come, the heterosexual gray flannel suit types, longshoremen. All the poets went there."[5] By 1951, the bar was placed on the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board's list of establishments from which military personnel were forbidden.[3]

The bar featured live entertainers, the best known of whom was José Sarria. Sarria, who began as a waiter, wore drag and entertained the crowd by singing parodies of popular torch songs. Eventually he performed three to four shows a night, along with a regular Sunday afternoon show, with Sarria performing full arias. His specialty was a re-working of Bizet's opera Carmen, set in modern-day San Francisco. Sarria as Carmen would prowl through popular cruising area Union Square. The audience cheered "Carmen" on as she dodged the vice squad and made her escape.[5]

The interior of the bar. Tables were pushed together to form a makeshift stage for live entertainment. Image courtesy of the San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public LibrarySarria encouraged patrons to be as open and honest as possible, exhorting the clientele, "There's nothing wrong with being gay–the crime is getting caught," and "United we stand, divided they catch us one by one."[6] At closing time, he would lead patrons in singing "God Save Us Nelly Queens" to the tune of "God Save the Queen". Sometimes he would take the crowd outside to sing the final verse to the men across the street in jail, who had been arrested in raids earlier in the night.[6] Speaking of this ritual in the film Word is Out (1977), gay journalist George Mendenhall said:

"It sounds silly, but if you lived at that time and had the oppression coming down from the police department and from society, there was nowhere to turn...and to be able to put your arms around other gay men and to be able to stand up and sing 'God Save Us Nelly Queens'...we were really not saying 'God Save Us Nelly Queens.' We were saying 'We have our rights, too.'"[7]

Sarria became the first openly gay candidate in the United States to run for public office, running in 1961 for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.[8] Sarria almost won by default. On the last day for candidates to file petitions, city officials realized that there were fewer than five candidates running for the five open seats, which would have assured Sarria a seat. By the end of the day, 34 candidates had filed.[9] Sarria garnered some 6,000 votes,[8] shocking political pundits and setting in motion the idea that a gay voting bloc could wield real power in city politics.[10] As Sarria put it, "From that day on, nobody ran for anything in San Francisco without knocking on the door of the gay community."[11]

Police harassment
In 1948, the San Francisco Police Department and the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission, in response to the Black Cat's increasing homosexual clientele, began a campaign of harassment against the bar and its patrons. Bar owner Stoumen was charged with such crimes as "keeping a disorderly house" and the State Board of Equalization suspended the bar's liquor license indefinitely. In response and on principle, Stoumen, who was heterosexual, took the state to court. In 1951, the California Supreme Court, in Stoumen v. Reilly (37 Cal.2d 713) ruled that "[i]n order to establish 'good cause' for suspension of plaintiff's license, something more must be shown than that many of his patrons were homosexuals and that they used his restaurant and bar as a meeting place." This was one of the earliest legal affirmations of the rights of gay people in the United States. The court qualified its opinion, however, by stating that ABC might still close gay bars with "proof of the commission of illegal or immoral acts on the premises."[12]

In response to this legal victory and based on the "illegal or immoral acts" language of the opinion, the state passed a constitutional amendment creating the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). The California State Assembly in 1955 passed a law authorizing broad powers for the ABC to shut down any "resort [for] sexual perverts." The Black Cat was shut down under this authority, along with a number of other establishments. In a test case involving an Oakland bar, Valerga v. Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the supreme court struck down this new law as unconstitutional. This decision was not a complete victory, as the court noted that had the ABC's revocation been based on "reports of women dancing with other women and women kissing other women" it might have upheld the law. Homosexuals, therefore, had won the right to assemble but only if they agreed not to touch.[12]

Police and city officials responded to the increasing visibility of the Black Cat and other gay bars in the city, and the Black Cat's success in court, by increasingly cracking down, staging more frequent raids and mass arrests. One favorite tactic was to arrest drag queens, since impersonating a member of the opposite sex was, at the time, a crime. Sarria responded by passing out labels for the drag queens to wear reading "I am a boy" so it could not be claimed they were impersonating women.[13]

By 1963, following some 15 years of unrelenting pressure from the police and the ABC, Stoumen decided he was no longer able financially to sustain the fight. The cost of his long legal battle was more than $38,000.[5] Sarria tried to enlist the owners of the city's other gay bars to help Stoumen pay his legal bills, but none offered any assistance. The ABC lifted the bar's liquor license in 1963, the night before its annual Halloween party. After a final defiant Halloween celebration at which only non-alcoholic beverages were served and an attempt to survive on food and soft drink sales, the Black Cat closed down for good in February 1964.[14]

The site is now the location of Bocadillos, a tapas-style restaurant. On December 15, 2007, a plaque commemorating the Black Cat and its place in San Francisco history was placed at the site


This past weekend marked the second anniversary of the murder of teenage student Lawrence King. He was killed at his own school after being bullied and harassed for being openly and unashamedly Gay amongst his peers for some time. Clearly, he was offered no effective support or protection despite all the red flags that were evident before his life was ended. All young people have a right to safety and effective support in our schools and high schools. Lawrence's death is tragic and completely unacceptable. It also presents us with an opportunity to examine what is wrong in our own LGBT communities as well as what is lacking in terms of safety precautions in our schools. It is easy to point fingers at the failings in our school systems to address homophobia effectively.

However, there is another issue that is not so easy to discuss and acknowledge amongst ourselves. I am speaking specifically about the sexism and homophobia that exist within our own LGBT communities that allow young people like Lawrence King to get thrown to the wolves. Right after his murder, the editorials started popping up everywhere suggesting that part of what caused Lawrence King to get killed was perhaps our own LGBT community's trend to support LGBT visibility. The implications that these editorials were making was that young Lawrence had perhaps made himself more of a "target" by being "out" and flamboyantly Gay amongst his peers at school. This way of thinking suggests that LGBTQ youth like Lawrence are often victimized by our own community's support of everyone's right to be out and proud at any age. A great majority of these comments were written and published by and for members of our own LGBT communities.

My response to these comments is that LGBTQ youth like Lawrence King will continue to be bullied and killed as long as we preserve such homophobic and sexist thinking within our own communities. Students who are picked on for being "different" have always been tormented and brutalized. It didn't take Gay Liberation to single them out, and there will always be those young people and adults who cannot or choose not to "blend" with their peers or the mainstream. Protection, the right to safety, and the right to respect at school or in the workplace should not be contingent on which young men are the most "butch" acting and which young women appear the most "feminine." This type of rationalization for the killing of young people like Lawrence King is a slap in the face to countless Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender youth who do not, or cannot, adjust their appearances or behaviors to fit heterosexist stereotypes of conventional masculine and feminine "norms." Until we confront the hatred of all things "feminine" that allow our own communities to disown Drag Queens, Transgender people, or others who dare to be different, the killings will not stop.

I was appalled by the editorials that followed Lawrence King's murder that suggested that he had been encouraged to be a target by believing that he had the right to be as different as he chose to be at school. This message is a throwback to embracing closeted behavior as a remedy for homophobic attacks. That would produce another kind of death. It is the death that comes from denying the true spirit of any individual to flourish and grow naturally without being shamed or denied the love that every individual deserves.

So, in honor of the spirit that young individuals like Lawrence King revealed, I challenge our own communities to stop shaming those who dare to be different. It's about saving lives, and it's about time.
Joe Mannetti

In Honor of Lawrence King,
Joe Mannetti

GSA Network News
February 17, 2010


In this edition of GSA Network News, we share words and pictures from the candlelight vigil honoring Lawrence King on February 12. We are so thankful for the youth leaders who organized the event, and for all GSA activists who are fighting to make our schools safer.

We also announce our upcoming events for GSA youth across the state. Enjoy!

In solidarity,
GSA Network

Youth Keep Lawrence King's Memory Alive

On February 12, 2010, the second anniversary of the shooting of Lawrence King, over 40 GSA activists and allies from throughout Southern California gathered at Los Angeles City Hall to hold a candlelight vigil in memory of Lawrence King and share their stories of harassment and bullying, as well as to call for an end to the violence in our schools. The vigil was organized by Isaiah Baiseri (Glendora High), Glenna Colerider-Krugh (South Pasadena High), Charisse Delk (Arrow High), JT Mendoza (Santa Susana High), Marissa Minnick (Torrey Pines High), Giuliana Pe Benito (Westlake Hig), Pablo Ramirez (Lincoln High), and A. Robin (Granada Hills High), all members of GSA Network's Southern California Youth Council. The vigil featured youth speakers as well as teacher allies.

We asked some youth who attended why they were at the vigil and what Lawrence King meant to them. This is what they shared:

"With sass and charisma, Lawrence King stood taller than many LGBTQ individuals have ever done so in the generations that have gone by. We gathered to mourn, to pay tribute, to lend our hearts to brothers and sisters, but most importantly, to stress an awareness that the LGBTQ community stands together, united and strong with hope and pride."
- King Chan, Reid High

"I am here to listen to the story of Lawrence's life. He touched so many people.
- Branne Demongigny, Whitcomb High

"I'm here because I support the LGBT Community 100%! I was so sad about Lawrence's death. He will never be forgotten."
- Sonia Rivera, Lincoln High

"I came to bring awareness about harassment and violence and to increase my knowledge about this increasingly powerful and strong community."
- Tiffany Tan, Lincoln High

"Tonight, we were all as one, joining together to express who we truly are with no hate and discrimination. We promoted acceptance for everyone tonight."
- Faith Tabayoyong, Hoover High

"I came in remembrance of a brave human being, and because all of these amazing youth inspire me."
- Diana Bui, community member

"Lawrence's death was wrong. No one deserves to die for being who they were born to be. That is what tonight is about."
- Billie Barragan, Hawthorne Math and Science Academy

"Why does it take someone's death to make the world lift a finger against the violence in our schools that we live through everyday?"
- Manuel Cuevas, Belmont High

"The Vigil allowed me to look back at Lawrence King's struggles and realize that even though his death sparked some change, we still have a long way to go."
- Marissa Minnick, Torrey Pines High