Whenever the religious right detects a dip in fund-raising, the resident cheerleaders hit the airwaves with all kinds of madness in search of the “outrage” hook that will pull in the big bucks from the God (and liberal, gay, minority and immigrant) -fearing faithful. To wit: Jerry Falwell’s outing last May of the purple Teletubby Tinkie-Winkie as a gay icon and corrupter of 1-year-olds.
The most recent flap came two weeks ago, when the Family Research Council (which gave us Gary Bauer as a plausible presidential candidate) decided to champion the cause of First Lieutenant Ryan Berry, an Air Force missileer and devout Roman Catholic who balked at serving in a two-person missile silo with a woman. Berry claimed a “religious objection” to serving a 24-hour shift alone with a woman on the basis that it would strain his fidelity to his wife. His recalcitrance led to a bad evaluation by superiors and killed his chances of promotion, Berry said.
The Family Research Council said Berry was right to be concerned, and brayed that the only reason he received a bad write-up was “anti-religious bias.”
“The Launch Control Center has one bed and one toilet, and they’re concealed by a curtain,” said FRC spokesperson Robert Maginnis. The story of Berry, who has hired a lawyer to appeal the bad evaluation, was rehashed over and over for Focus on the Family’s 6 million radio listeners until the inevitable occurred — 70 Republican and five Democratic congressmen signed a letter urging that Berry’s religious convictions be respected.
The Air Force said the issue is not faith but military order and discipline. Berry trained four months at Vandenburg AFB with full knowledge that he was silo-bound with the opposite sex. His complaint is purely theoretical; Berry has never actually been assigned to serve a single shift alone with a woman at his base in Minot, N.D.
“The mission must always come first,” said Lieutenant Colonel Claudia Zebis of the Air Force’s Press Relations Department. “We do accommodate religious practices, but this is not about accommodating a religious practice so much as it would be a personal conviction.” In plain-speak, that translates as: “Where in the Bible does it say that a man can’t serve side by side with a woman without a boink-fest occurring?”
The job involves inspecting, testing and maintaining ballistic missiles — hardly a proving ground for hanky-panky. “You’re so busy and dirty that the last thing you want to do is take off your clothes and have sex,” said Alison Ruttenburg, a former A.F. legal officer. Berry remains at Minot on a different assignment, but the tale of his forced conscription with a woman lives on in radio broadcasts and news releases. Public Enemy No. 1 in the stories: Bill Clinton, who is accused of attempting to “radically feminize the military.”
Pairing of male and female officers in the missile silos, however, dates back to 1988. The commander in chief at the time was that granddaddy of feminazism, Ronald Reagan.
Basil exposition goes to holyland?
Our scrappy little community newspaper the Los Angeles Independent usually does a good job of exposing local skullduggery. But this time it’s gone too far. An article by reporter Jillian Bailey suggested that actor Michael York had told the L.A. Times a whopper when he claimed to be a weekend visitor at one of our most eccentric local institutions, the Holyland Exhibit museum.
“He’s telling a big fib,” the paper quoted Holyland “resident docent” Mrs. Betty Shepherd as saying. Mrs. Shepherd added that although she had never met York, she “seems to remember him playing Satan at one time.”
Now, one might ask why Bailey would let the esteemed British star be impeached by a woman who dresses as a Bedouin to lead tours of such “artifacts” as a piece of Noah’s Ark and salt from “Lot’s Wife.” Or whether Bailey actually read the Times piece, which clearly identified Holyland as one of the odd little museums York would like to visit, not someplace he’d been. (For the record, York reprised his role as superspook Basil Exposition this summer in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, but has never donned red horns and pitchfork. Could this little prevarication be the work of – Sa-TAAAAN???)
But no hard feelings. Mrs. Shepherd said she’d be happy to show York around her Silver Lake establishment, birthplace of the “Eye-ographic rapid visual” Bible course and home to a genealogical chart tracing Jesus’ ancestry directly back to Adam.
“I’d like to see him come here,” Mrs. Shepherd said pluckily. Don’t miss the 2,600-year-old mummy case!
Tenants in the buildings to the north of the Farmers Market, just across the parking lot, learned last week that they have until September 30 to get out and make way for a $100 million retail development anchored by Nordstrom. The 650,000-square-foot project, is the latest in a series of renovation plans for the Fairfax District produce landmark. Neighbors a decade ago stopped a 2-million-square-foot mall (twice the size of the Beverly Center), also with Nordstrom, by raising the specter of the demolition of one of the few remaining L.A. tourist spots with local flavor and history. Developers this time swear they will not touch the market proper, but they will be razing four peripheral buildings. They offered to relocate tenants, but at least one said no. “It is very difficult for an independent store to compete with a chain,” she said. During the Depression, the Farmers Market was opened to hard-pressed truck farmers to peddle their wares. Today the eclectic collection of produce and specialty stores and restaurants attracts 6 million visitors per year. Will the Farmers Market be engulfed by the new mall? Will it be killed off slowly, by strangulation? Stay tuned.
An Internet invitation to the leather community to turn out for the 19th annual Sunset Junction Fair is raising fears of a change of character in the diverse but traditionally “family-friendly” event. Addressed to “Leather/Levi/Fetish Bars, Clubs, Organizations, and Leather/Levi Community Members,” the invite states that organizers are “piggybacking” their “Levi & Leather” weekend onto the August 21-22 festival in Silver Lake, which they call “our equivalent to the Folsom area in San Francisco.”
Few would dispute that comparison, but we wondered if that means this year’s Sunset Junction will resemble the Folsom Fair, with its reputation for outré public behavior and nudity. Ironically, it was local leathers who first drew OffBeat’s attention to the issue. Although reluctant to go on the record (“Don’t hurt Sunset Junction,” they begged), they were concerned that families will be pushed out.
Folsom’s leather convention makes no pretense of encouraging attendance by children. Popular attractions have included a bean-bag toss to win a dildo, a public spanking booth, and a cage where the curious can be locked up for five minutes in their underwear. The action becomes even more adult after the event ends at 6 p.m. and the crowd shifts to bars and other venues. Sunset Junction, on the other hand, has featured carnival games and rides and children’s music, and attracts families and teens from the surrounding hills and flatlands.
Durk Dehner, a member of the ad hoc coalition promoting the Sunset Junction Levi & Leather Weekend, insists that the fair is merely returning to its roots. (Dehner is also president of the Tom of Finland Company, a local business that will host an off-site dance.)
“Sunset Junction emerged out of the local gay-bashing events of the late ’70s,” the affable Dehner said in a phone interview. “The community organized to bring diverse groups together to dispel hostility. But AIDS decimated the leather community’s participation. [Still,] we’re not adding a new element to the street fair.”
OffBeat agrees that Silver Lake should roll out the red carpet for the fetish folks, although why anyone would want to wear leather on what is traditionally one of the hottest weekends of the year remains a mystery. But heat, beer and leather aren’t a combo that encourages people to stay dressed. When asked whether Sunset Junction would no longer be a G-rated event, Sharon Delugach of Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg’s office pointedly informed OffBeat, “There’s all sorts of definitions of family.” Of course, OffBeat welcomes Heather and both her mommies, but we wonder if even they will feel welcome.
Michael McKinley, the cherubic prime mover of the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance, is hopeful that the addition of the Levi & Leather crowd will bring more folks out to the fair. “We lost so many people due to AIDS that I’m thrilled we’re going to see more participation from the leather community, who were originally a big part of Sunset Junction,” said McKinley. Fair proceeds go to Sunset Junction Youth Program, which uses the money to plant trees, paint murals and work with local teens on other projects in the neighborhood.
“The Levi & Leather people can invite whoever they want. If it turns into Folsom, so what?” said McKinley. “It’s the same as if a group of senior citizens or Japanese tourists were having a convention in L.A. and decided to come to Silver Lake for Sunset Junction. We’re celebrating diversity, and if people respect the event, they’re welcome to come.” He called fears about what hypothetical tykes might see the groundless projections of adults and accused OffBeat of sensationalizing. (In a follow-up phone interview, McKinley said, “You waltzed in here in your leopard Spandex and you seemed okay, but now you’re asking these questions that make it sound like you’ve been talking to my enemies.”)
“Sunset Junction has grown every year, but it’s not Folsom Street,” Delugach insisted. (McKinley informed OffBeat that Goldberg’s office immediately contacted him after speaking to this reporter.) Delugach, like the fair organizers, said the event is about “community.” But whose community?