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
Photo by Ted Soqui
The upside to a hate-free millennium — you have to search tirelessly for an upside, but it’s there — is that hardly anyone is outwardly opposed to the thought. (Except the Reverend Fred Phelps, whose followers chant “GOD HATES FAGS.” Do gay activists remember to pay him?) The downside is that we’re all going to kill each other anyway with misguided love. One camp will save fornicators from hell, the other will save pregnant teens from the horrors of adoption counseling, one camp will censor blasphemous language and art . . . no, wait, that’s both camps. Spot fires of actual love will erupt, nowhere near the places love proclaims itself loudest to be, but enough people who start off loving will slide into self-righteousness to keep holy war raging for millennia to come. Love is like humility; when you assume you’re good at it, you’re not. This is as it should be.
On the other hand, we can dream, as Beatle John once urged — and on this cryogenic cue, in a dimmed conference room at the Simon Wiesenthal Center one recent Sunday, a few dozen teachers, pastors, counselors, parks directors, etc., from around the country sat meditating on the wan recorded trickle of Lennon’s voice (“Imagine no possessions . . .”). Other, equally quaint artifacts followed: Peter, Paul and Mary (“All My Trials”); Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Band-Aid — the signal breaking up a bit here. Next thing we knew, we were on to Eminem. When exactly did the river of liberation jump its banks?
The occasion was the “Train the Trainers Seminar,” a weekend diversity workshop inspired by the Columbine shootings and the 1998 hate killings of gay student Matthew Shepard and black musician James Byrd Jr. Local singer Randi Driscoll, undaunted by the prefab trappings (she introduced herself by singing “Amazing Grace” from a lectern), was using her segment of the day’s agenda to retrace the recent course of musical history. “Don’t buy it! Don’t encourage it! Stop tapping your foot, and listen to the lyrics! Change the world that the music reflects. Yes — question in the back.”
Driscoll: “I heard from a fairly trusted source that it was some kind of an olive branch . . .”
Before a lunch of cold cuts and fruit, about 15 participants joined in nondenominational prayer (“Dear Great Eternal Spirit . . .”) with Constance Lax of the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Lax’s travels, she said, had brought her to a lot of biker rallies, where there are “a lot of fundamentalists, some of them good people and some screaming racists. The thing is to be clear, loving and truthful, and if I don’t get angry when they say something racist, I still get my message across.”
Workshop facilitator Brent Scarpo — whose video “Journey to a Hate Free Millennium” has been blessed by the families of both Byrd and Shepard — led the afternoon session, brainstorming hate words at the chalkboard (bitch, loser, lesbo, retard, nigger, Jap) and slinging zippy egalitarian comebacks. “I’m okay with ‘Brent’?” he offered, bowing, when someone asked what to call a gay man. In the back row, on an island of ghostly fame, Judy Shepard (Matthew’s mother) sat beside reformed neo-Nazi T.J. Leyden.
Scarpo leads more than 100 such workshops in a year, and if “the work,” as he called it, has taken its toll, it has also yielded lessons of experience. Over the final hours, attendees were taught the right placement of Kleenex boxes for screening Scarpo’s documentary; advised on how to help teen viewers who come out of the closet during screenings; reminded to love the opposition (Scarpo invited his film’s right-wing antagonists to dinner — a gesture worthy of Elton John). As closing speaker, he had recruited Mama D. (Delia Javier), a Hollywood film worker from Manila who now prepares feasts for 400 homeless every Sunday on Skid Row. A blast of possibility from the streets, an Emersonian call to arms: What were we doing here, while she was out there? Audience: Are you available to come speak at high schools? Javier (shy hesitation): As long as it’s not on Sunday morning.
Before leaving, participants broke into small groups to rewrite a flow chart of hate nouns into something healing, an exercise that turns earnest grown ups into game-show contestants. This might, after all, be as good and pleasant as the millennium gets: teachers, musicians and pastors, some with braided ponytails, standing shoulder to shoulder, bearing flash cards of nirvana:
Group 5 had a problem with parallelism. The others were tolerantly helpful. Eminem and the Reverend Phelps didn’t attend.
Sinners: In Search of Sleaze
The place is right. The Key Club, after all, was once Gazzarri’s — ground zero in its day for pay-to-play legions of Guns ’n Crue wannabes, spandexed strumpets and other ’80s cultural totems, including Bill Gazzarri himself, the quintessential dirty old man of whom it was once suggested that he had to pre-sell 350 tickets to get past St. Peter into the Pearly Gates after his death in 1991.