By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Last Saturday evening at Midtown's Roosevelt Hotel, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani gave the keynote address at the annual leadership conference of the Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay and lesbian conservative group. But an evening that began with the most supportive gesture that any Republican politician has ever made toward gays and lesbians ended in violence, when a small group of protesters calling themselves Fed Up Queers (FUQ) stormed the hotel lobby and were forcibly removed from the premises by hotel security. When this weekend's boisterous bipartisanship inside the Roosevelt Hotel had runneth over and the blood, sweat, and tears outside the hotel had been mopped up two things were clear: the gay vote is not a foregone conclusion for the Democrats in 2000, and more important it is by no means predictably or sheepishly monolithic. Gays may now be more divided politically than they have ever been.
Something significant has shifted in queer politics. On a weekend when the traditionally gay-friendly probable Democratic candidate for the New York Senate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, was fundraising among moneyed heteros in the Hamptons, the usually hard-boiled Republican contender, Mayor Giuliani, was extending a sizable olive branch to gay New Yorkers. On a weekend that also saw an unprecedentedly wide array of gay activists joining forces, the straight media had its first strong hint that gays feel almost as betrayed by one another as they do by the Christian right and that they may be one another's worst enemies in the year 2000.
A third of the way through the mayor's speech to Log Cabin members and VIPs on Saturday, a thunderous banging erupted in the back of the hotel ballroom as FUQ protesters, some of whom reportedly pushed their way through one of the hotel's kitchens to gain entry, pounded on the ballroom's closed doors. "Here come my protesters," quipped the mayor in response to the noise. "Now I feel at home." After a few moments the din quieted, and the mayor delivered the remainder of his speech, then left the hotel without incident.
Soon after his departure, however, and unbeknownst to banquet attendees, a melee broke out downstairs in the hotel lobby between FUQ members and hotel staff. The protesters, who had made their way up to the ballroom, were apparently being herded back downstairs when things got ugly on the main floor of the hotel. One protester who had forced her way into the hotel, Suzy Lee Korn, kicked at a security guard as he tried to drag her back outside. The security guard then punched Korn in the face, bloodying her nose.
On Sunday morning, having been released from the hospital the previous night with minor cuts and bruises, Korn said she planned on pressing charges. "I want to see a formal apology on behalf of the Log Cabin Republicans," she said.
Log Cabin's executive director, Rich Tafel, responded calmly but firmly to Korn's demands: "If anyone owes anyone an apology, it's a group that begins a violent action like that and escalates it into a media situation where they say they are the victims. We were organizing a peaceful convention with activists from all over the country who are on the front lines of gay and lesbian rights. We had people speaking on a panel from a variety of perspectives and things were conducted with mutual respect. If those people wanted to exercise their First Amendment rights, they should have done it across the street."
When Tafel heard about what was happening on the street Saturday night, he left the banquet midway through dinner, went out to the front of the hotel, and attempted to talk with the handful of remaining FUQ protesters, who were still shouting anti-Giuliani slogans and attempting, largely unsuccessfully, to file complaints with the police. (For the purposes of full disclosure, I should add that earlier that afternoon I delivered a speech at the conference. Though I am not a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, I attended the banquet.)
Such diplomacy is typical of Tafel. In fact, at a conference plenary Saturday morning, he made a point of dissuading anyone from hissing, booing, or otherwise disrupting conference proceedings. "We're here to talk to each other in a civilized manner," he said. Panelists at this session, entitled "Visions for the Movement's Future," included representatives from across the gay political spectrum: outspoken progressive Urvashi Vaid, director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute; libertarian Jonathan Rauch, a correspondent for National Journal; Brian Bond, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund; Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the bipartisan Human Rights Campaign (HRC); and State Representative Steve May (Republican of Arizona). (May, who also serves part-time in the army reserves, was front-page news in The New York Times last week when the army announced its intention to investigate him under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, because he came out as gay during a bitter dispute in the Arizona legislature over a bill that would have denied the use of public funds to pay health benefits to same-sex partners.)
Though Tafel didn't witness the climactic kicking and punching on Saturday night, he saw it on the news that evening. On Sunday morning he had this to say about what he'd seen: "Someone kicked a security guard. That is not a peaceful demonstration. Violence begets violence. I would denounce violence on both sides."