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02/24/2010

Video: Harold Ford @ Center -- did he thrill or chill a brand?

by Jeremy Hooper

It was an, uhm, spirited night at New York City's LGBT Community Center.

WHAT: Harold Ford Jr. was on hand at a Stonewall Democrats NY event to tell the LGBT community why, exactly, we should support him over fierce advocate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

WHY'D HE NEED TO DO THIS: Because his revisionist history of his congressional record (with two -- count 'em -- two Federal Marriage Amendment votes) has left much to be desired, and he has much explaining to do if he wants to earn any sort of endorsement. After all, how are we supposed to know that his newfound support is genuine? What if Sarah Palin is elected president in 2012, and the nation goes to the far-right of Dubya -- will he go back to his old TN ways when such are considered more politically advantageous? We have questions. We need answers.

HOW'D IT ALL GO DOWN: Well, it was sometimes nutty, sometimes loud, sometimes over-the top, sometimes firm-but-fair, sometimes embarrassingly unhinged (a confetti gun? REALLY?!?), and sometimes embarrassingly uninformed (like when Ford was completely clueless about Lawrence v. Texas, a ruling that happened when he was in Congress). Here, have a look for yourself...

(**sorry the audio's low. It was a problem in the room, not just the video)


***For comparison: Here's Gillibrand at a recent Manhattan event

**More takes:

Ford, Who Voted To Ban Gay Marriage, Answers To NYC's Gay Voters [TPM]
Ford Jr. gets tough reception by NY gay group [AP]
Harold Ford at NY Stonewall Dems [Kos]

DAVID BADASH: "At every opportunity, protesters shouted down Ford, who clearly wasn’t capable of withstanding the half-hour verbal abuse in a hot, stuffy, small meeting room. It was demeaning and disrespectful to Mr. Ford, it was demeaning and disrespectful to the Stonewall Democrats, it was demeaning and disrespectful to the LGBTQ community, and worse of all, it was demeaning and disrespectful to our national political debate."

Watch: Harold Ford Vs. NYC’s Stonewall Democrats – Part 1 [New Civil Rights Movement]

**SEE ALSO: Photos, courtesy of G-A-Y friend Jamie McGonnigal:

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space gay-comment gay-G-A-Y-post gay-email gay-writer-jeremy-hooper


Your thoughts

Jeremy, what I need to know is this:

Do you brainstorm on these puns, or do they just hit you like lightning while you're walking?

Posted by: Evan Hurst | Feb 24, 2010 11:57:31 PM

It's just my silly mind, Evan. I can't shut it off ;-)

Posted by: G-A-Y | Feb 25, 2010 6:43:22 AM

The juvenile puns are the second worst thing about this otherwise great blog. The worst thing about it is that some months ago the author personally endorsed mob tactics to shut down a speaking event. Jeremy, as the Ford appearance shows, this bullying conduct can hit anyone, anywhere, anytime if it is condoned. Having supported it against others, you have no basis to criticize what happened at the Center. Indeed, if Scott Lively formed a group to disrupt all gay related events for what he perceives is a higher moral purpose, you would have no basis to object.

Posted by: Tom | Feb 25, 2010 1:43:37 PM

"The worst thing about it is that some months ago the author personally endorsed mob tactics to shut down a speaking event"

What are you talking about, Tom? I honestly have no clue what you're talking about. You can't make a claim like that in the abstract.

And why do you have to be nasty? Some people like the wordplay, some don't. Why try to make me feel "juvenile" for occasionally being silly? It's how I keep my sanity after 10 daily hours of researching anti-gayness. :-)

Posted by: G-A-Y | Feb 25, 2010 1:57:21 PM

Also, Tom: I hardly even "criticized" what happened at the Center. Mostly kept my personal feelings out of it. I simply said:

"It was sometimes nutty, sometimes loud, sometimes over-the top, sometimes firm-but-fair, sometimes embarrassingly unhinged (a confetti gun? REALLY?!?), and sometimes embarrassingly uninformed (like when Ford was completely clueless about Lawrence v. Texas, a ruling that happened when he was in Congress)."

That's both support and criticism (for both sides). I'm sorry but that loud gun shot was one of the most insane things I've ever heard at a political event. I seriously thought someone fired a gun. And on every LGBT listserv I'm on, people are decrying it.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Feb 25, 2010 2:14:15 PM

Tom, are you referring to the Smith College event which Ryan Sorba referrs to as the ".. the lesbians at Smith College heckle better than you do" event? As I recall, JH didn't really take a stand on the heckling event, but he certainly did indulge the rest of us to do so. But, whatever one thinks of heckling, it is the purest form of free speech, and truly the only form that most people have available to them. And, that was never truer than when the US Constitution was drafted which specifically protected that free speech.

That being said, though, heckling is pretty much shut out of events that Scott Lively (and the horde he pals around with) hold. Because private events are subject to invitation (and dis-invitation). Just remember the, "Don't tase me bro!" guy. The reason that events on that fringe don't get interrupted, is because they are ALL private, and by invitation only. And, we are equally entitled to make many of our events private as well. And, the Lively crowd does show up at every Gay Pride event on the planet... but for safety (as much theirs as ours), they are usually cordoned off in a pen somewhere. I suppose it's so that they don't hurt themselves.

And the reason that the astroturfers got away with heckling democrats on health care reform is because those events were not "private" events. That, and the fact that any politician knows that part of the job is facing the angry (heckling) mobs. Sorba chose to attend a private event, at which he knew (as he did at CPAC) that his brand of hatred would be met with derision.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Feb 25, 2010 4:43:03 PM

Oh, is that what it was -- the Smith College thing? If so then yes, Dick's right. I basically said that while it wasn't the best possible scenario, I can understand how/why something like that would happen. When rhetoric is as personally targeted and so grossly over-the-top as Sorba's, an organic protest might spark up. Esp. at a place like Smith.

But as Dick states: My bottom line there was that it is not at all an either or situation, and that it was open to discussion. I essentially presented both sides and let the comments play out.

Plus, if we *are* talking about the Sorba speech: It is beyond ridic. to compare Harold Ford and Ryan Sorba. Apples and oranges.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Feb 25, 2010 5:18:52 PM

OK, here's my response:

1. I was referring to a post that concerned a deliberate disruption of a speaking event at a campus. I did not recall who the speaker was, and frankly, it doesn't matter. The whole point, Jeremy, is that everyone's right to speak has to be respected, or no one's right will. Sorba and Ford are only "apples and oranges" to you because you don't object strongly to Ford and you do object strongly to Sorba. I don't have to tell you - a blogger who masterfully exposes and catalogs anti-gay hate - that there are millions of people in this country who would object just as strongly to even a modestly pro-gay message as you do to Sorba. Taking your and Dick Mills' approach, we would have no basis - other than raw self-interest and fiat - to object to deliberate disruption of gay political events.

2. Dick Mills:
"But, whatever one thinks of heckling, it is the purest form of free speech, and truly the only form that most people have available to them. And, that was never truer than when the US Constitution was drafted which specifically protected that free speech."

Wrong on every count. The Constitution only applies to the state, not to individuals. We shouldn't refrain from disruption and harassment b/c there is a constitutional commandment to do so, but because it is the only way for the marketplace of ideas to function. It is absolutely laughable and ironic that you would assert - ON A BLOG - that heckling is the the only form of speech that most people have available to them. The protesters at Smith College had a myriad of options, including carrying on their protest outside of the speaking venue. The protesters at the Center had a similar myriad of options. But that wouldn't accomplish the goal, which was not to convey a message but to prevent someone else from conveying a message.

3. Finally, sorry if I came off as nasty. Didn't mean to. I really like this blog and read it daily. FWIW, I do think that the blog would be improved greatly with more serious analysis and less of the word-play and name games. You are probably the best of all the gay bloggers in ferreting out information about anti-gay forces. During the Maine fight, you were head and shoulders above everyone else. But to be honest, when I get to your rebuttal of whatever homophobic item you found that day, I find myself wishing that you would bring more depth and less word play to the table. Just one man's opinion of course.

Posted by: Tom | Feb 25, 2010 6:08:59 PM

Tom: First and foremost I have to say again: I didn't even come out on here and condemn the Ford protest. I was there in the building. Some of it I liked, some of it I didn't (from both sides), and some of it was just nutty (there was a truly bizarre outburst about seating that happened before I was filming) -- and that's exactly what I said. So I really don't know where you're even coming from, from the get-go. I really feel that the initial comment was undeserved, since I didn't even publicly "criticize what happened at the Center."

But if we must continue this: It's pretty unfair that you'd reference a past situation that you're not even familiar with. That tells me that you have no true clue what I actually said, and are only adopting a generalized idea of what I said. Again: Unfair.

It must've been the Smith situation, since that's the only possible candidate I can even think of. So if so: What I said in regards to that situation was that I person was that while I would have chosen a different route of protesting that matter, I understood *why* it happened. I got why the frustrations were so high, because I know how insanely over-the-top Sorba's rhetoric is. And I understood why when a group of humans get together on a college campus to reject someone who has personally targeted them, their, friends, and loved ones, it organically turned into what it did. But my bottom line on the Smith situation was that it's not necessarily a right or wrong matter, and that there was room for multiple opinions. That's how I left it. So to say that I "personally endorsed mob tactics to shut down a speaking event" is just factually wrong.

Also, Sorba and Ford are not only apples and oranges to me -- they are apples and oranges because they are worlds apart on the gay scale! You do know who Ryan Sorba is, right? He proudly seeks our condemnation and "cure." Ford, on the other hand, has now become a supporter of our every right. I have MAJOR issues with Ford because I think he's been completely disingenuous/revisionist. But he being different from Sorba is not a matter of my own opinion. This is not a value neutral world -- some people are genuinely over-the-top flamethrowers who invite scorn and some are mere subjects of political disagreement. I'd hope that even those who most vocally protested Ford can see that clear difference between him and Sorba!

And taking your suggestion about those who might oppose Ford: If folks protested Ford because he now says that he supports marriage equality, then yes, that would be a completely different matter than protesting Ryan Sorba (or last night's protest, for that matter). We would hopefully defend *any* marriage equality politicians from attacks that are based on that support. And it wouldn't be because of "raw self-interest and fiat" -- it would be because equality holds a premium that bias/prejudice/homophobia/outright condemnation/"ex-gay" therapy/ etc. does not deserve! Again: We're not value neutral. We have a societal interest to protect all people.

I also think it's interesting that when Sorba was recently shouted down at CPAC, almost nobody had a problem with the way that organic reaction went down there.

As for your criticisms about my depth: Sorry, but Im not going to defend that. I appreciate your opinion, sincerely. But after yet another day of slogging through this shit and dedicating every fiber of my being to challenging it (in various ways ranging from passionate to silly), I just can't sit here and listen to my work being reduced in the way that I feel you have.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Feb 25, 2010 6:42:55 PM

You don't have to get so defensive. I have said over and over that you have a great blog. OK? I wasn't reducing what you do. I was trying to offer my perception of the strengths and weaknesses of the blog as a reader. If you don't want constructive criticism, then fine, you won't hear anything further from me on the subject.

I did remember your post, although I didn't remember the specific speaker. For some reason, you don't want to link to the original post, so I'll cite the relevant part:

"We're not talking about the university shutting down speech -- we're talking about a student protest against a remarkably overheated speech. If the weight of the opposing voice is just so strong that it organically overpowers the anti-gay unsavoriness, that is an expression that we feel must be understood and respected. Especially when dealing with a speaker who so pointedly demonizes gay lives and encourages "conversion" of the same."

- That is an endorsement of mob tactics. You didn't just say you understood why it happened. You said that the disruptive conduct must be respected. And to make it worse, the disruption at Smith was premeditated and continuous; it was not a spontaneous expression of disapproval that thereafter abates (such as what happened at CPAC). On the contrary, it deliberately continued so that the fool Sorba couldn't speak. That was its entire purpose.

In your view, which is very clearly stated, it is OK to shout down a speaker and prevent him from communicating on a university campus if: a) it is students rather than the university who are preventing the speaker from speaking, b) the speaker "demonizes gay lives and encourages 'conversion' of the same." I can't think of a more clear endorsement of mob tactics to censor views you don't like. You should consider yourself lucky that LaBarbera didn't pick up on this embarrassment of a post and use it to prove that gays are at heart a bunch of totalitarian thugs.

Jeremy, there isn't one rule for pro-gay speakers and one for anti-gay speakers. I don't expect you or me to be neutral in our views on the subject itself, but that can never translate into an acceptance of censorship of views we oppose.

Who decides who falls into the acceptable category? You? Barack Obama has also changed his views on gay marriage, only in contrast to Ford, he has become more hostile to equality, not less. I take it then that you would respect and understand deliberate disruptions of his appearances. What about Warren Throckmorton? He is good on some of our issues and bad on others. Is he allowed to speak under your invented test or is he also subject to the organic mob veto that we must respect?

And of course, our opponents are every bit as convinced that their views reflect Divine morality and ours reflect sin. In fact, they see gay rights not as freedom, but as a threat to their religious freedom and a form of attack on their faith. They aren't bound by your decrees about what speech is good and what speech is bad. If they adopted your approach to speech, you can bet that no gay rights proponent would be able to speak in any of the Southern states, Utah, and large swaths of Maine. They would all be organically overpowered, don't ya know.

Do we really have to go through this basic Free Speech 101 exchange? Do you really not understand that there is a difference b/t being non-neutral as to message but supporting free speech rights for all?

Posted by: Tom | Feb 25, 2010 7:52:08 PM

"You don't have to get so defensive"

And now my number one debate pet peeve: Putting forth comments that require one to defend their words/actions/whatever, then playing a "you're getting defensive" card when said person responds. With that, I'm done.

You haven't upset me at all. I of course welcome your thoughts. I just don't feel this exchange very constructive or conversational.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Feb 25, 2010 8:37:23 PM

Actually one more thing: What the "embarrassment of a post" (which Pete L. and I actually did discuss, oddly enough) actually said:
***
"On one hand: We all have a duty to allow everyone a chance to express their views (especially in an academic setting). In a perfect world we'd all be able to have conversations, not battles, on just about any issue. Colleges are marketplaces of ideas. And if we were talking about the university itself shutting down the speech, then we would certainly find that situation troubling.

On the flip side, however: We're not talking about the university shutting down speech -- we're talking about a student protest against a remarkably overheated speech. If the weight of the opposing voice is just so strong that it organically overpowers the anti-gay unsavoriness, that is an expression that we feel must be understood and respected. Especially when dealing with a speaker who so pointedly demonizes gay lives and encourages "conversion" of the same. If student protest to this very real and very personal condemnation manifests itself in a way that sends a strong message to those who foster bias and the acceptance thereof, then that is, from a gay rights perspective, the voice of diversity thwarting an attack that shouldn't have ever been waged in the first place. After all, this kind of thing wouldn't even be considered if it were against any other minority group of people. So when faulting the lowering of discourse, you have to consider just how incredibly bottom barrel Sorba's condemnations are. You have to consider the boulder that he is throwing before casting a stone."
...
Now, as we said in the last post on the subject: We see this not as a clear-cut situation towards which one must necessarily have a "right" or "wrong" opinion, but rather a matter with plenty of room for discussion. Also, despite the way we humans so often like to boil things down to "black/white, either/or," we think it's very possible to be of two minds on the subject.

Your thoughts? Leave us some comments.
***
http://www.goodasyou.org/good_as_you/2008/05/smith-protest-f.html

Posted by: G-A-Y | Feb 25, 2010 8:43:10 PM

"The Constitution only applies to the state, not to individuals."

Precisely. At the time, the governments they were used to, squelched free speech which was usually in the form of heckling, and usually aimed at the government, government officials, or anyone else in a position of authority. Heckling for most, was also their only real way to voice their dissatisfaction. When agents of the government squelched those hecklers, it usually got pretty brutal. So what I said is perfectly accurate. You should be a bit more careful before calling someone a liar.

And, I never said that the government (or anyone other than those in private settings) would stop hecklers today. The government does not, and cannot because we all enjoy freedom of speech... albeit with a few notable exceptions like keeping the peace, and violating city permit ordinances. In private settings (those which are not open to the general public), the venue decides what free speech is acceptable or not.

"It is absolutely laughable and ironic that you would assert - ON A BLOG - that heckling is the the only form of speech that most people have available to them."

And in that one statement you prove my point. You, my friend, are heckling ME. You aren't making a point, you are simply heckling me. I could not have made the point more succinctly.

"We shouldn't refrain from disruption and harassment b/c there is a constitutional commandment to do so, but because it is the only way for the marketplace of ideas to function."

Just because some asinine jackass (like Ryan Sorba) has an idea, doesn't mean that he ever has the right to be heard. He has the right in a public setting to say whatever he wants. He can even print it up in a book and sell it (even give it away) to anyone he chooses. But, no one owes him the deference to listen to him. Sorba can go to any street corner in any city in the US, with his megaphone, and sing to his heart's content. That is freedom of speech. Just as anyone else can go there and heckle him. And, in this case, it wasn't just one or two of those "lesbians at Smith College", it was virtually the entire room.

I would wager that if I (or anyone) walked into a church, and began spouting the same kind of vicious, nonsensical, but anti-religion diatribe similar to what Sorba spouts, I would end up running for my life. Whether I was invited there to speak or not. And anyone in that situation would be a fool not to expect the same thing. Sorba put himself in a position where he knew he would not have a friendly audience for his brand of antagonism. And, more than that, he wanted them to heckle him - which is why Mass Resistance was there to videotape it.

I honestly think that the world might be better off with more hecklers. A lot of lying liars get up in front of easily persuaded groups and make ludicrous claims, use fraudulent "facts", and postulate false conclusions. The dissenting voice might be enough, in most cases, to cast doubt on the claims from the authoritarians. If it can be done without heckling, then perfect.. if not then, I say, "Heckle on!"

Posted by: Dick Mills | Feb 25, 2010 8:47:18 PM

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