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Queer Town: Day into Night at Outfest

On Saturday afternoon, inside theater number two at the Directors Guild of America building on Sunset Boulevard, California State Senator Sheila Kuehl sat on a panel with other gays and lesbians for a "special event" at Outfest called "Queer State of the Nation." Kuehl was feeling feisty.

"Tell them that they better fucking do what Hillary tells them!" she said into her microphone.

As the first openly gay person to be elected to the California legislature, Kuehl, dressed in a red, loose fitting shirt with black slacks, is a trailblazer. She was responding to a question from a woman in the audience, who said her lesbian friends, and Hillary Clinton supporters, were thinking of not voting in November if Barack Obama was the Democratic party's nominee. Kuehl, who once served as chair of the New York senator's California LGBT Steering Committee, seemed bored and somewhat angry with that kind of talk.

"They're dissing their own candidate," said Kuehl, explaining Clinton made it clear that her supporters should now back Obama.

The woman in the audience handed over her microphone to someone else.

Queer Town: Day into Night at Outfest

Senator Barack Obama fund raiser Jeremy Bernard, left, California State Senator Sheila Kuehl, and actor Dan Butler discuss gays and politics at Outfest last Saturday.

And so went a political discussion that addressed gays in the military, gay marriage, gay Republicans, and gays who don't show up on Election Day. "They don't vote!" Kuehl exclaimed, noting political apathy in the gay community. No one pointedly laid out the state of queer politics, and there was no gay Republican on the panel to lend his or her perspective, but if you listened to the general sentiment of things, the gays were doing okay these days, with some major battles in the future...like Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage ballot measure that'll be up for a state-wide vote in November.

"People need to show up (to vote) and assume we're going to lose," advised Rick Jacobs, a political strategist and founder of the Courage Campaign, an online organizing network for "progressive Californians."

Jacobs also predicted California will lead the charge in legalizing gay marriage throughout the country. "If this (California Supreme Court) ruling stays, you bet you're going to see some changes in other states," he said.

Queer Town: Day into Night at Outfest

Advocate magazine writer Kyle Buchanan, left, hosted the panel, which also included Campaign Courage chair and founder Rick Jacobs and former U.S. Marines officer Julianne Sohn, who co-starred in Ask Not, a documentary about the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

But Jeremy Bernard, one of Obama's top fund raisers, thought gays and lesbians shouldn't expect the man from Illinois to immediately take up the reversal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." "It probably won't be the first thing an Obama administration would address," he said, citing President Bill Clinton's fiasco with attempting to overturn the ban on gays in the military, which lead to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Still, Bernard thought Michelle Obama, Barack's wife, would be a "great advocate" for gay rights in the White House. And Jacobs seemed to beg people to stay politically involved. "Don't give up, don't give up," he said. "It will be better." Maybe it was the title of the program--"Queer State of the Nation''-- that kept panelists and audience members on a certain kind of focus, but no one talked about health care, affordable housing, or lost jobs...all of the things that hit gays and lesbians, too.

OUTTRO: On Saturday night at the DGA building, theater number one was packed for a movie called The New Twenty, which Ernest Hardy in the LA Weekly dubbed a St. Elmo's Fire for the new generation. The first full-length feature by director Chris Mason Johnson was entertaining enough, and during a Q & A session after the screening, Johnson said he wanted to show how younger straights and gays easily socialize with each other. I didn't totally get that vibe, but it sounded like a nice thing to tackle.

After the movie, I drove home and watched a rental that was due back at Video West in the morning. It was Gus Van Sant's directorial debut called Mala Noche. For $20,000, he made a visually stunning movie that also had soul...in other words, it had something to say. It follows a white man in Portland who's in love with a young Mexican immigrant named Johnny, and how everyone deals with their own sexuality, among other things. A St. Elmo's Fire may be nice, but a Mala Noche for the new generation would be even better.


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