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Queer Town: "No on 8" Leadership on the Hot Seat

For weeks, activists and political observers in the gay community have been calling for a post-Prop. 8 town hall meeting, where "No on 8" staffers can take, and hopefully answer, tough questions about the Proposition 8 loss.

Tonight at 6 p.m., the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center will host a "virtual" version of such an event, with "No on 8" leaders Geoff Kors and Lorri Jean facing the public by way of a computer screen. Critics now wonder if campaign honchos are trying to pull a fast one by controlling the environment of the meeting and the questions they will be asked.

"Something doesn't smell right," says Miki Jackson, a longtime gay rights activist based in Los Angeles.

For Michael Petrelis, a San Francisco gay rights activist, the virtual town hall meeting is one more sign that the old guard has to go.

"It's becoming more and more obvious to me that we need new

leadership," says Petrelis.

With curious events unfolding before and after Proposition 8 was approved by voters on November 4, an increasingly perturbed gay community wants "No on 8" leaders to face the public and take ownership of the devastating defeat. But the "No on 8" campaign has been resistant, only taking part in one tightly controlled event at U.C.L.A., and then blaming others for the loss.

But with a major magazine revealing that key campaign leaders took summer vacations, and with staffers refusing to answer inquiries about who actually ran "No on 8," gay leadership now finds itself on the hot seat, and critics are putting the screws to people like Geoff Kors and Lorri Jean in a very public way.

Yesterday, Michael Petrelis took steady aim at L.A. Gay & Lesbian

Center Chief Executive Officer Lorri Jean by posting her salary on his

blog: www.petrelisfiles.com. Petrelis thinks the longtime gay rights activist is being "overpaid."

"Lorri

did a horrible job," says Petrelis. "She didn't deliver the L.A. vote

for Prop. 8, and she took a month-long vacation during the campaign."

The Advocate, the national gay and lesbian newsmagazine, recently reported that Jean and Kors both took vacations sometime during the summer, only several weeks before Californians would vote on a ballot measure that would take away the right of gays and lesbians throughout the country to legally marry in California--there is no residency requirement to wed in the Golden State. To add to the high stakes, gay rights advocates and gay marriage opponents across the nation believed a "No on 8" victory in California would help win same sex marriage battles in other states.

With so much on the line, Kors and Jean still decided to take a break, even though many longtime gay rights activists, such as David Mixner, called the Proposition 8 fight the "epic battle" of their lifetimes. Strangely, and perhaps even brazenly, Kors and Jean would complain about a slow summer just before and immediately after the Election Day loss, saying the public was "complacent" and big donors wouldn't write checks for the gay marriage cause. They never mentioned their part in failing to energize voters or to somehow improve the fund raising situation.

Petrelis, Miki Jackson, and others now want "No on 8" leaders to hold "real," not virtual, town hall meetings in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where they can be held accountable, despite the common campaign line that now is not the time for finger-pointing.

"When is the time to finger point?" Michael Weinstein, founder of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, asks rhetorically. "After we lose again? Look at what the Republicans are doing. They're sizing everyone up."

There was an opportunity for that kind of town hall meeting at U.C.L.A. on November 13, when the Williams Institute, a legal research, gay think tank, hosted an event that examined the 2008 Election Day results. Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute, organized a panel of experts to discuss the Proposition 8 loss, but rather than finding an independent moderator, Sears turned over those duties to "No on 8" campaign director Patrick Guerriero, who certainly had an interest in damage control. Sears' decision was the first sign that "No on 8" leaders were going to take full control of the evening.

Additionally, Sears told the full capacity crowd that since the panel was being filmed, he was going to do "something a little different tonight" and not allow the public to walk up to the microphones and ask questions. Sears then said the audience could write questions on blue index cards, which would be handed to the moderator, who, of course, was Patrick Guerriero.

Guerriero never asked a single question word-for-word from the cards. Instead, he summarized a group of questions and asked for comment. And none of the questions Guerriero put forth were overly critical of the campaign. (A video of the panel discussion can be watched here.)

The last, weird touch of the evening were the name plates and introductions. On the table in front of Guerriero and the other panelists, who included Geoff Kors, name plates were placed, so the public would know their affiliations. Guerriero and Kors' name plates said nothing about their work for the "No on 8" campaign.

Some people in the audience, in fact, did not know that Guerriero was the campaign director--Sears did not introduce Guerriero as an important "No on 8" campaign staffer. Guerriero also introduced Kors only as the executive director of Equality California, totally ignoring that Kors was a key decision-maker in the campaign as an executive committee member of "No on 8."

With these post-election shenanigans regularly occurring, Petrelis and other critics are startled to hear that "No on 8" leaders like Kors and Jean have been making a power grab to head the Proposition 8 repeal movement. "They refuse to be held accountable for Prop. 8," says Petrelis, echoing a sentiment that's been heard often lately throughout the gay community, "and we never hear from them what lessons have been learned. So why would we think they'll do anything differently for the repeal of Prop. 8?"

Besides protesting in the streets, Michael Weinstein believes the younger generation, which has been empowered by the Obama presidential victory and has shown enormous interest in overturning Proposition 8, can play a crucial role in calling out "No on 8" leadership. "It's important for people to tell truth," Weinstein says, "and it's important for the young generation to demand the truth." 

Lorri Jean recently told L.A. Weekly that an "independent consultant" will eventually look into the successes and failings of "No on 8," with a report delivered to campaign leadership. Asked if that report will be made public, Jean says probably not.

"You certainly don't want your opponents to know your strategy," she explains.

Petrelis and other critics also have problems with the mysterious nature of the "No on 8" campaign's "executive committee," which apparently involved 17 members and was broken down into "sub-committees," the L.A. Weekly has learned.

According to Jean and "No on 8" campaign staffer Sky Johnson, three or four members of the executive committee made up a sub-committee, which would then make quick decisions during the fast-paced life of a campaign.

Jean says she was a member of the "field operations" sub-committee. Other sub-committees included media, finance, and a few others that were not disclosed. When Gill Action Fund Executive Director Patrick Guerriero took the helm in early October, the sub-committee process of decision-making, which is rare for any kind of political campaign, was stopped, according to Jean.

Petrelis, in the meantime, wants the names of the members of the "No on 8" campaign's executive committee. He requested that information soon after Election Day, but he still has not received a list.  At least two of those members--Geoff Kors and Lorri Jean--will be sitting somewhere in California for the virtual town hall meeting tonight.


NOTE: This week, the L.A. Weekly examines the role of the youth movement inside the gay rights movement. Click here for the article.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.



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