By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Their slight infuriated OUT LOUD's organizers. Almost a month later, on November 6, 1998, Tay Aston, a lesbian activist associated with OUT LOUD and with roots in ACT UP and AHF, wrote the Center directors, demanding a meeting to "voice our concerns over the leadership philosophy" of the Center. Aston added that her group was "very concerned about the lack of grassroots activism demonstrated" by the world's largest gay and lesbian center. "Why was an AIDS agency the first to respond to the brutal Matthew Shepard murder?" she asked, and insisted that the gay community needed "leadership on the streets, where the community can see our leaders in action." She demanded to know why executive director Lorri Jean, or for that matter any other senior manager, wasn't on the microphone that night. To her mind, "Fearing the reaction of the center's funding sources is an invalid reason for not speaking directly to the members of the community served by this organization."
Darrel Cummings, then deputy director of the Gay and Lesbian Center, responded on November 9 with a three-page memo arguing that allegations "the Center did not respond in a timely or appropriate manner to the vicious murder of Matthew Shepard not only illustrate lack of information but represent a gratuitous, mean-spirited and intentionally divisive attack on those of us who have spent our lives organizing for justice." He added that the Center had held a press conference immediately after the Shepard news, and had participated in a candlelight coalition effort, "as we always do," to respond on the streets the following Wednesday in West Hollywood. During her speech, Cummings added, Lorri Jean was "out and loud."
Some were not swayed. "Lorri Jean is a fantastic fund-raiser but not a very good leader," said OUT LOUD co-founder Terri Ford, who was disturbed that Jean had run for Riordan's Charter Commission in the spring of 1997 without disclosing her lesbianism or identifying where she worked. "What message does it send to people when the executive director of the largest gay agency in the country runs for political office in the closet?" Jones asked, and argued, "When you make financial resources your emphasis, you lose the animating spirit that allows gays to organize grassroots issues, and you actually abandon the person on the street."
OUT LOUD's response to Cummings' memo, faxed out on December 15, stressed exactly that disconnect between protest and purse strings. It blasted a recent fund-raising mailer from the Center that used Shepard's death to solicit dollars. The signers of the OUT LOUD memo -- Lauren Stephens, Clint Trout, Terri Ford, Jeri Deitrick, Karen Mall -- also took issue with how the Center handled another recent matter, a protest against the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a quasi-scientific, anti-gay organization that on October 24 convened a conference at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A. The gay community knew very little about the homophobic convention and did not mobilize against it, a complacency OUT LOUD laid at the Center's doorstep. "And then there's the cowardliness of the Center regarding the NARTH protest," OUT LOUD's fax read. "Shame on you for that lack of action."
Cummings labeled OUT LOUD's complaint about NARTH "misguided," and noted that the Center had successfully routed NARTH from its intended lodgings. "Immediately upon learning that this conference was being held at the Beverly Hills Hilton," he said, the Center had "engaged with others to end the hotel's relationship with the conference." The Hilton did back out, and the conference was held at the Biltmore. For Ford, that effort wasn't enough, "a Center contingent was not there [at the Biltmore]. That was very clear."
Cummings ended his letter agreeing with OUT LOUD that "press conferences alone do not eliminate homophobia or win civil rights," but he also questioned the efficacy of "public actions only held in the most gay- and lesbian-friendly municipality in the country." He implied that the joint effort was preferable to those groups who act on their own, adding that "change happens best when acting in coalition with our community partners, rather than dictating and grandstanding as some large organizations are capable of doing."
OUT LOUD claimed that many other groups had come to its demonstration. "We worked totally in coalition with others," Ford said.
The protests over Matthew Shepard have died down, but the political crisis they opened up keeps escalating, with gays and lesbians in Los Angeles questioning just how gay-friendly corporate-friendly activism can ever be. The most striking example again implicates the Gay and Lesbian Center, which last year took $34,000 in corporate donations from Coors beer, the same brewing company whose founding family and affiliated foundation have extensive ties to right-wing and anti-gay groups. Since 1977, the gay reaction to Coors has been a successful national boycott. It's a boycott the Coors Brewing Co. and the Coors family have worked to overturn, through what Don Kilhefner calls a "slick, heavily funded and deceitful public-relations campaign to seduce the gay and lesbian community into believing Coors' funding of virulently homophobic activities is a thing of the past." Kilhefner criticizes the Center for accepting tainted money, angering former deputy director Cummings, who notes, "We are no longer engaged with Coors."