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Editorial on the Center
It's Elementary (interview)
Youth Outloud! (interview)
Donna Frye Interview (San Diego City Council Candidate)
note: Donna Frye won election on June 5, 2001.
John Robbins Interview /genetic engineering, factory farming
Cut the Crap: Legalize marijuana for ALL uses now!
Center Board Should Learn from Pride
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN, Editor
"We are not the Center," San Diego Lesbian/Gay Pride board co-chair Judy Sharp explained towards the end of its April 17 town-hall meeting at the Center after one of the meeting participants seemed confused about the relationship of the two organizations. "We are a separate entity. We are just using the Centers space."
You can say that again, Judy. The Pride board's meeting couldn't have been more different from the meeting the Center's board had held three weeks earlier, on March 27, in the same room. The Pride board was there to discuss a crucially important issue for the organization's future the name to be used for the group and its events after this year and they went out of their way to make community participants feel welcome at their meeting and a real part of the process.
On March 27, the Center's board assembled in the small meeting room off to the side of the Center's large auditorium, while making the 50 audience members who had come to protest the board's new closed-meeting policy sit in the auditorium itself. The separation between board members and the community they were supposedly there to serve was so blatant that some attendees compared the room's configuration to South African apartheid. By contrast, the Pride board members on April 17 sat in the same room as the community members they came to hear from. Not only were both board members and audience in the same room, the Pride board didn't even use the raised stage in the Center's main auditorium. Instead they sat in a semicircle in front of the community participants and engaged in a give-and-take dialogue with audience members throughout the meeting.
There was one other thing the Pride board didn't do on April 17 that the Center's board had done on March 27. The Pride board didn't have their officers get up and spend nearly half an hour telling the community people who were there to speak to them, "We're right and you're wrong," before the community people were allowed to say anything. Nor were the Pride board members afraid of letting their own disagreements show in front of the community unlike the Center's board members, who gave a show of forced unanimity reminiscent of the so-called "democratic centralism" of Communist politburos.
"Democratic centralism" was a term coined by Vladimir Lenin in the process of his distortion of Marx's original concept of democratic socialism into a tool for dictatorship. It meant that the Communist party's leaders must make all their decisions in secret. Members of the leadership were allowed to disagree with each other in private, but in public they were expected enthusiastically to support the decision that had been reached secretly and never breathe one word that they had ever wanted it to go any other way.
Closely allied to "democratic centralism" in Lenins thinking was the concept of the "vanguard party." While Marx had believed that ordinary working people would acquire the skills to run society in the course of their revolutionary struggle against capitalism, Lenin believed that on their own the workers would only get as far as organizing trade unions. According to Lenin, it would take an intellectual elite, schooled in Marxist theory and representing what he called "the objective interests of the working class" -that is, whatever he thought the people he was supposedly representing ought to have, whether they actually wanted it or not- to run not only the revolution but also the government that emerged after it.
It's this concept that allowed the leaders of the old Soviet Union (and their apologists in other countries) to argue that the U.S.S.R. was "a million times more democratic" than the United States, or any other capitalist republic, and therefore didn't need all those pesky little things like free elections, free speech, free press, etc. And it's this same concept -the idea that they are a privileged elite who know the objective interests of the Queer community better than we could ever know them ourselves -that the Center's board members are invoking to justify their closed-meeting policy and claim that meeting in secret is actually more democratic than meeting in the open. When I published last month's editorial I wondered if Leo Laurence and I were being unfair in comparing the Centers board to the Soviet leadership.
After reading the comments of Center vice-chair William Larkin and former chair Anne Wilson in the April 5 Gay & Lesbian Times, I didn't think I'd been unfair at all. "What would seem to ensure freedom in many cases does not actually do so," said Larkin - Lenin couldn't have said it any better. "The press does not have the freedom to any piece of information expressed in any form. You simply don't," he added making it clear that the real purpose of the secret-meeting policy is to suppress attempts by the Queer media to cover the Center honestly. Wilson, who contributed her own bit of Leninist doublespeak ("I believe the Center can close its board meetings and still be accountable to the community"), also added insult to injury by saying she felt it was appropriate for the Center board to open its meetings to the press only if reporters didn't attend them regularly. (I'm not making this up!)
Aside from fundamentally misunderstanding the role of a free press in a free society which is exactly to report any piece of information we can find, as long as it is accurate and newsworthy, and we have gathered it openly and fairly (which were more likely to be able to do at an open board meeting than if we have to depend on leaks) the Center's board members, past and present, have shown by their statements and actions that they regard community participation as at best a necessary inconvenience. They see themselves as a vanguard elite and us as ignorant peons desperately in need of their superior wisdom.
The Pride board members, on the other hand, have shown they understand they are in business to serve us, not the other way around. When they needed help on a significant and potentially controversial issue, they had the decency and courage to ask us what we thought, and to listen when we told them. The Center's board could learn a valuable lesson from Pride's.
This article copyright (C) 2001 Mark Gabrish Conlan
Debra Chasnoff Comes to S.D. Jan. 22
Oscar-Winner Shows How Schools Teach Queer Issues
story by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Reprinted from ZENGER'S NEWSMAGAZINE #31, February 1997
This article copyright © 1997 Mark Gabrish Conlan
Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Debra Chasnoff will be introducing her latest production, Its Elementary, to San Diego Wednesday, January 22 as a fundraiser for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). The film will be shown at 7 p.m. at the Ken Cinema, 4061 Adams Avenue in Kensington, and will be followed by a live reception for Chasnoff at the Intersection Gallery, 4247 Park Boulevard.
The event is a co-production of GLSEN, Fresh Dish Productions and Women's Educational Media. Tickets will be $10 for the film showing and $25 for both the showing and the reception.
Co-produced by Helen Cohen, It's Elementary is Chasnoff's first film since she won the Oscar for Deadly Deception, her 1992 exposť of the nuclear weapons industry in general and General Electric in particular. It's Elementary focuses on grade-school and middle-school classrooms where teachers and administrators are working out age-appropriate ways to teach their students that Queer people exist and are a legitimate part of the human community.
A Lesbian mother herself, Chasnoff broke into films in 1984 with Choosing Children, a documentary about Lesbian and Gay couples who were becoming parents through adoption or artificial insemination. In her Zenger's interview, Chasnoff discussed her motives for making It's Elementary, the difficulties she encountered during production and her hopes for the film.
Zenger's: What led you to make It's Elementary?
Debra Chasnoff: I started work on this project shortly after I won the Academy Award (in 1992). I was personally motivated by the fact that my oldest child was about to enter school, and I really was concerned about the kind of information he would start to hear about Gay people on the playground and in the hallways. I realized that teachers in general feel very uncomfortable or unsure about how to address the anti-Gay prejudice that is rampant in schools.
I wanted to make something that would make a really strong case that all children are affected by anti-Gay prejudice, not just the ones who may grow up to be Gay or Lesbian themselves, but kids who have family members, relatives who are Gay; and kids who are unconventional in any way, who get called Gay whether or not they ever will be Gay. I also wanted to really inspire and demystify, for both parents and teachers, how to do age-appropriate education around Lesbian/Gay issues with kids.
Zenger's: What kinds of people did you go to to interview for the film, and what were your experiences with them?
Chasnoff: What we did was actually film in the classroom, in six different schools across the country, in elementary and middle schools. The bulk of the film are children in the class. We filmed what was happening and interviewed them. We were like flies on the wall, and got to see for ourselves what happens when teachers talk about Gay people, starting in first grade.
The results are very surprising. Certainly that's what audiences have told us. People have been very amazed by how open the children are; how much they already know about Gay people; how much they want to know; and how much they're able to accept discussion about these issues in the classroom. We also intercut this footage with interviews with the teachers, principals and parents that you see in the film. So you get to see and hear their own feelings about why theyre doing this work, what surprised them about it and the importance they place on doing this kind of work.
Zenger's: Youve talked a lot about the surprises involved. What was the biggest thing about it that surprised you?
Chasnoff: Me? I guess I was really surprised with the fact that we ended up making a comedy. Most people hear about this topic and they get very serious. The kids are really funny, actually. And theyre adorable. I think we forgot that this is a film about children. Its the first time, I think, that anybody has done anything in-depth that looks at what children think or feel about Gay adults. Theyre adorable, and they have a lot of very funny, very sweet things to say.
Im surprised by how disarming the children are, and by extension, how disarming the film is. It really puts people at ease. In fact, we've had a lot of parents see this film who said, I came in really convinced that I didn't want my child to be exposed to this kind of education, and now I feel very differently. I really get it, that its on the kids minds and that there certainly are appropriate ways to do this. I was also surprised at how difficult it was to make this film. Finding anybody who was doing anything at the elementary-school level, and then getting access to be able to film, turned out to be very, very politically challenging. [There were] many, many hoops to get through, and we were blocked from filming in many schools. I continued to be amazed at the depth of homophobia that exists in professions that deal with children. People are very anxious about this topic, and not willing to go out on a limb. This film is really a testament to the courage of the teachers and principals who did agree to be in it.
Zenger's: Is there any content in the film about the other side, the arguments either from the traditional radical Right or more moderate people who are uncomfortable with this kind of education?
Chasnoff: The film does not even pretend to be a journalistic piece. Its not a pro-and-con. But we definitely wanted to allude to the objections that some people have about the topic. So they're in there, and there's enough there so that you understand what the opposition is. But we don't dwell on it.
The film opens up, for example, with excerpts from Senator Bob Smith, who's a Republican from New Hampshire, railing on the floor of Congress against against schools addressing these Gay issues in schools. He's just going off screaming about how inappropriate it is, and how disgusting it is. We put that up there, and then we intercut it with film clips of children in their classes, saying what they think about it. There's other references throughout the film, just very short segments; some news footage of the rallies against this issue, and things like that.
Zenger's: One of the most commonly heard objections is that children have the right to grow up not surrounded by any sexual mythology, and certainly not to have that in the classroom; that youre going to take away the "innocence of childhood" and whatnot if youre forcing them to deal with issues involving adult sexuality at that age. How would you answer that objection, and how would the people in the film answer that?
Chasnoff: Well, the film is 80 minutes long, and if you watch it, you will see that there is no discussion of sex anywhere in the movie. Really, one of the points that were putting to rest in this film is that immediate assumption that most adults have that, if youre talking about Gay and Lesbian people, then by definition youre talking about how two men make love or how two women make love.
There's obviously many ways to talk about Gay people in school, just as there are about heterosexual people. You can talk about heterosexual people in school all day, all of the time, and nobodys explaining intercourse to the kids. But we read books that have heterosexual characters. The math problems all start with words like, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith bought a house." The assumption, all the time, about the people that we talk about in school is that they're heterosexual.
The film makes it really clear that, just by making it clear to kids that some of the people in the world and in their community perhaps even in their school, in the families of some of the children in their class are Gay or Lesbian, were doing an enormous service to those kids because were making it clear that Gay people exist in the world. It has nothing to do with talking about sexual practices. But it could do a lot to help prevent discrimination. It could help prevent violence, as kids grow up to be teenagers and start wanting to harass people who are different from them. So that issue is a non-issue as far as Im concerned.
The kids talk about famous people who are Gay. They talk about all the kids calling each other "faggot" on the playground in third grade. They talk about things in the news, current events, where Gay rights are being discussed. But they dont talk about sex. And in fact, the first teacher in the film is a fourth-grade teacher, and in her interview she says, "I don't want to talk to these kids about sex. I don't think its appropriate for elementary-school kids." But I do want to talk to them about differences, and discrimination, and different kinds of people who make up our community.
Zenger's: Six years ago, when the City Council of San Diego was debating its Gay-rights ordinance, one of the things that really struck in my mind was when two opponents, a married straight couple, came up right after each other and said, "We're trying our hardest to make sure our kids learn our values, and are kept away from anything that's opposed to our values. And if you, the City Council of San Diego, pass this ordinance that says you can't discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, you will be sending a message that goes against everything were trying to teach our children." What would you having had the experience of sitting in these classrooms and making this film say to a couple like that
Chasnoff: They certainly have the right to feel that way, and the parents [of children] in the school who are Lesbian and Gay have a right for their children to feel safe in school. I think the bottom line is that every child in a school needs to feel safe, and needs to feel that they are validated. And it is impossible for schools to do that today unless they are inclusive of Gay and Lesbian people.
They dont need to say that homosexuality is right, that its moral or immoral. They do need to acknowledge that there are Gay people, that they exist, and that in an increasing number of schools that means there are children in the classroom who have two moms, or two dads. It is irresponsible for teachers to get up there when theyre talking about "families" - which they do in every primary grade - and say that families are a mom and a dad. There are all different kinds of families.
Some of the parents in the school may not like the fact that there are some Lesbian or Gay parents, but they have no right to deny to those kids, whose parents are Gay, that those kids see their families reflected in the discussions that go on in school. Parents are totally free to talk about whatever they want with their kids at home, and as one of the moms in the film said, "Even if you're against homosexuality, if you're against the lifestyle, at least this gives you a chance to bring up what you think about it at home, around the dinner table." But to pretend that it doesn't exist is myopic.
In fact, it becomes quite clear from watching the children in the film that they have a lot of information about Gay people. Unfortunately, what they have is stuff theyve picked up from the media, anti-Gay stereotypes from a lot of the children's movies and videos that they've seen, TV shows and stuff they hear on the news while their parents are flipping through the channels, stuff they hear on talk shows. And they hear the other kids on the playground using anti-Gay slurs.
So the question I would have to those parents is, is it appropriate for that to be the only information that children learning about Gay people, are the worst, the most negative, most distorted things? And are they willing to take responsibility for the violence that comes out of that; for the high rate of teen suicide among children who are questioning their sexuality; for the abuse and discrimination? Are they willing to say that that's O.K., and to sanction that? I think the majority of parents in this country will say no, that they want all the children in every school to feel safe. There's a real distinction to be made between advocating for homosexuality saying it's a good thing and acknowledging that it exists, and that Gay people should be treated respectfully, regardless of what an individual may think about homosexuality. Even if you think its morally wrong, you don't have a right to be abusive to Gay people.
Also, as one of the principals in the film says, there are all different kinds of values. Parents may have their own individual moral values, but there is a community value that we should all treat each other respectfully, and that everyones family is still welcome in school. I guess what I would say is that those kinds of values the value that all children should feel safe in school really supersede any individual parents moral or religious objections.
Zenger's: You mentioned the kinds of experiences that the kids who either come out to themselves that they are Gay or Lesbian, or kids who are questioning their sexuality, have. When do these kids typically come out, or start to confront these issues of their own sexuality; and what actually happens to them once they do?
Chasnoff: I dont think anyone really knows when someone confronts it. I know that theres a statistic that GLSEN uses that says that the average age at which the children come out is 13. That's the average. That means that there are children younger than 13, and obviously ones who are older. So I think they definitely know something by the time theyre in middle school, and probably by the end of elementary school. When their classmates are starting to have feelings about girlfriends and boyfriends, which definitely starts in the fifth or sixth grades, these kids would start to wonder why they werent attracted to the opposite sex, and maybe they wanted to be with someone of the same sex. What happens to them? I think it's a pretty familiar thing to us in the Gay community, that for the most part children are left to figure out these questions for themselves. And they have to do that in an environment where Gay or Lesbian people are completely invisible, or where all that's left in the void is negative information and stereotypes. Then they run the risk of having very negative self-images of themselves: not being able to visualize what life could be like, especially when everyone around them is interested in people of the opposite sex.
They feel like there's really something wrong with them, and that can lead to all sorts of things: doing really poorly in school; experimenting with drugs or alcohol; and we all know what the risks are of suicide among Gay or Lesbian youth. So its a really serious problem.
Also, whether or not they really are Gay or Lesbian, if they appear in any way to be Gay, they run the risk of incredible abuse by their peers, and sometimes by faculty members, unfortunately. In the Jamie Nabozny case, that was just settled in Wisconsin, a high-school student was tortured, really physically abused, and the school did nothing about it.
They didn't take these issues seriously, and that one went all over the country.
Zenger's: You mentioned earlier being a Lesbian parent, and having concerns about how your own son would be treated in school. How has your son been treated in school?
Chasnoff: I'm pleased to say extremely well. The other mom and I have been very involved in the school, as have many other parents, and have really had the opportunity to see the faculty. In fact, teachers in our school really grow and find ways to be inclusive of all kids families, and to include an awareness of Gay people at every level of the curriculum, every grade level. It's now part of the school, and you can really see an enormous difference in the school environment. I think my son has not experienced anything negative. In fact, its turned out to be an enrichment, a special thing, because his family has been acknowledged and used as an example of the Gay people that the teachers are talking about. But when I went in and talked to his second-grade class last year, I asked the kids how many of them heard people saying mean things about Gay people in the playground. And half the hands went up in the room. This was second grade. And the kids started to say how uncomfortable it made them. In fact, what happened in his school - even where there's so much curriculum and stuff going on - happens in every school. A kid grabs the basketball out of another kids hand, and the first thing they say is, "Cut it out, you faggot!" It makes the kids really uncomfortable, particularly now that they all know somebody who's Gay. They tell their teachers, and they try to get the kids to stop.
Zenger's: Why does that persist? Where does that come from, and why does it seem to reproduce itself, generation after generation?
Chasnoff: Its getting worse, actually. I think part of the problem is that, as a society, weve moved a little bit about race and gender issues. Most responsible adults won't let other kids put other kids down on the basis of race or ethnicity, and hopefully around gender. But this one is still out there. Most adults won't touch this with a ten-foot pole. So the kids are picking it up. They're picking it up from their parents. Theyre picking it up from their older siblings. And its sanctioned prejudice. I think their attitudes reflect the attitude of the culture at large, which is that were second-class citizens. They just latch on to that. I think the younger kids don't really understand fully what they're saying when they say faggot. But they know that's a really mean word, and it's something they don't want to be. And as they get older and they do understand what it means, they have decided that that's definitely something they don't want to be.
Zenger's: One other thing that really amazes me that it still persists is, for some reason, you still hear in a lot of peoples coming-out stories, "I thought I was the only one." It startles me that people who have come out in the 1980's and 1990's are saying those words, just as people who came out in the 1960's or 1970's did, even though in the meantime weve built up this entire community, this entire movement. One would think that even if they were being taunted about it and being put-down about it, and had somehow internalized a social value that it was not exactly a perfectly fine and wonderful thing to be, one would think that the kids of today would at least know what it was, and would have a frame of reference for what those feelings were, and that they do have a name and that other people share them. Why do you think that feeling of, "I think I'm the only one," still persists?
Chasnoff: I don't really know the answer to that, but I think our community is not necessarily that visible to young people. The fact that were out here and we have a culture that is really vibrant for adults is great, but its not necessarily reaching down to kids. Children spend most of their time either at home with their parents and if their parents are not bringing that information home, theyre left to get stuff on TV, and its still mostly negative slurs or in school all day.
And when theyre in school they read books, talk about current events, and do math problems and nobody acknowledges that Gay people exist. The teachers and staff who are Gay don't feel comfortable to come out. The prevailing assumption is that everyone is heterosexual. And if everyone around these children, all the other kids, are starting to be interested in other kids of the opposite sex, and thats the prevailing social norm, the Gay and Lesbian kids still dont see anyone else in their immediate environment who is like them.
So it still feels invisible. Maybe they can get access to a book or read something, but thats different from having real live human beings in front of them who they know are Gay, to whom they can ask questions or glean some kind of information. So that's why I feel its so important to do the kind of education we show in this film. The next thing we need to do, to make the path easier for young people who are coming out, is to have the existence of Gay people be an acknowledged, matter-of-fact thing in the school environment.
Zenger's: What would be your advice to people working this issue in terms of trying to get a school district, or even a local school, more cognizant of these issues and more inclined to bring Gay and Lesbian people into the curriculum the way the schools in your film are doing?
Chasnoff: First of all, people can't do it alone. I think its really key to put non-Gay people in the forefront of these struggles. Most of the teachers in my film are heterosexual, which has surprised a lot of people. I think its really hard for a Gay or Lesbian teacher or parent to work on these issues by him- or herself. So the first thing I tell people is, get a team of people, get some straight people to be part of it, and get them to be the ones that bring this issue up. I think that we need to cut through the stereotype that only Gay people care about us, and only care about these issues.
We also need to turn this around so that its not a "Gay rights" issue. In fact, one of the things that motivated me to make this film was a 60 Minutes piece on the whole controversy about the Rainbow Curriculum in New York a few years ago, and the way 60 Minutes characterized the effort to be inclusionary of Gay issues in the schools as "Gay-rights advocates" advocating for information about "their" culture in the curriculum.
It was so upsetting to me, because I feel that's not the point. The point is to look at this from the childrens point of view, which we did in the film. We"ve got to make the case that the children need this. It's relevant to their lives. It's not a Gay adults agenda. That's the point of view that we need to be coming from, that its the children in every classroom who are affected.
In every class we went into while making this film, somebody in that room had a relative who is Gay. If it wasnt a parent, it was an uncle, or a sister, or a brother. And those children loved these people. It is very painful to them to be in a school environment where people are allowed to say "faggot" and "dyke" all the time, and nobody says a word.
So we have to turn this around, and make it from a school that's safe, from the schools point of view, for all kids. So I would say, one, turn it around; its about the kids. Two, do this organizing with a team of people, and its got to be a team of Gay and straight people.
I think this film has the potential to help. Weve been getting flooded with orders for our film on videos from schools and school districts and teachers across the country. People are asking people to look at this film, because its very disarming. It's not a didactic piece. You get a chance to be in a classroom and to be with kids. And its much easier for people to ask someone to watch a video and then have the discussion, versus feeling like you have to go in and make a whole speech, and cover all the topics yourself.
Also, working with GLSEN is really important. It's a fabulous organization. We've been working with them all over the country, including co-sponsoring the premiere in San Diego. It's a network of educators, Gay and straight, who are really concerned about these issues. They have an enormous number of resources and, you know, materials that people can use to make their case.
You also have to realize that the goals of what we should be organizing for are broad, and that you dont have to be focused on getting a certain kind of curriculum mandated. In fact, we don't recommend that to people. Its a great thing if you can do it, but what we've seen is that just breeds this controversy at the policy level, when really what we need to do is change attitudes and change awareness.
Thats why were thrilled at the way this film is being used, because if you can get the faculty at your kids' elementary school to see this movie, the chances are that the teachers who see this movie will react very differently the next time they hear kids yelling "Faggot!" in the hallway. Or the next time a teachable moment comes up in the classroom, and theyre talking about somebody who happens to be Gay, the teacher might have the guts to say that to the kids without there having to be a whole curriculum, where they have to do a whole unit of study, but they can just be more inclusive on a day-to-day basis. That can make an enormous difference right there.
Film on Queer Schoolkids Premieres Sept. 16 at SDSU
interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Reprinted from ZENGER'S NEWSMAGAZINE #76, October 2000
Copyright © 2000 Mark Gabrish Conlan
The public premiere of Youth Outloud!, a new video documentary on the tragedies and triumphs of openly Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered high-schoolers, will take place Saturday, September 16, 7:30 p.m., at the Backdoor Theatre in the Aztec Center, San Diego State University. The Watergypsies, a musical group who perform on the films soundtrack, will play live as part of the event. (The well-known group Indigo Girls donated one of their songs to be used in the film, and singer-songwriter Randi Driscoll also contributed to the project.) Tickets are $10 (adults) and $5 (students), and are available at the San Diego State University ticket office and all TicketMaster outlets, or e-mail to email@example.com
Though the makers of Youth Outloud! definitely chose to emphasize the tragedies over the triumphs, the film is a dramatic 45-minute account of the often harrowing personal stories of teenagers struggling to deal not only with their own sexual orientation but the hostilities, prejudices and fears not only of their peers but of the adults supposedly there to protect them. One slide in the film shows a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."
What this means to the makers of Youth Outloud! is that school administrators, teachers and classified staff generally havent even begun to meet their responsibilities to the Queer students in their midst. Youth Outloud! aims not only to shock, but to enlighten andspecifically to call on school staff to take their responsibilities to their students utterly seriously and confront homophobic students who use hate language towards classmates who are, or are perceived to be, Queer. On September 8, the office of San Diego Mayor Susan Golding announced that she had proclaimed September 16, the day scheduled for Youth Outloud!s premiere, as Safety for All Students Day in San Diego.
Zenger's interviewed three of the people involved in the making of Youth Outloud!: co-directors Becky Burklee and Kathy Hines, and associate producer Ariel Weininger. They talked about their backgrounds, personal experiences, motivations behind making the film and what they hope the film will accomplish. Among their projects is to get community members to sponsor copies of the film for high schools, resource libraries, or youth care providers. If youre interested in helping, please contact the production company, Sun & Moon Visual Productions, at P.O. Box 34325, San Diego, CA 92163, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, Web www.sunandmoonvision.com
Zengers: What are your personal backgrounds, and how did you get involved in this project?
Becky Burklee: I used to coordinate youth services at the Lesbian and Gay Mens Community Center, and in so doing I did a lot of work with school districts. I did a lot of teacher inservice trainings, and often I would not be able to take youth with me to have them relate their own experiences, because it was during times when they were in school themselves. So I always felt that having a product such as this that would be useful to people who were doing speaking engagements and things, and be able to still have youth be able to tell their stories without necessarily being there was important.
While I was involved in the Center, I also participated with a group of youth in going up to Sacramento for Youth Lobby Day in 1999. I was really impressed by the amount of student activism that was going on. At the same time, in the Grossmont High School District, there was a lot of youth activism around the policy changes to protect Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered students. Because of that activism, I thought that that was something the community needed to know about.
Kathy Hines: I was a volunteer at the Center, and I worked with Becky with the youth program. I graduated at SDSU in sociology, with an emphasis in social problems, and a minor in film. So I thought both of us working together could really shed some light on this particular issue.
Zenger's: How did the project come together, and who financed it?
Burklee: After we put the idea out there to a group of youth that we were working with at the time, they were really excited about it. So we formed a Community Advisory Board, made up primarily of youth, but also with youth care providers, parents and teachers. We applied for funding through the San Diego Foundation for Change, and they awarded us funding to begin the project. We continued to fundraise, mostly through individual donations at that time, and also continued to develop the
project with the Community Advisory Board.
The board met every two weeks last year for about eight months, and during that time they decided what the issues were that should be reflected in the documentary. They helped do fundraising. They helped us find the interviewees, the people that we were going to interview for the documentary. They did a lot of community outreach, and they really were the directing force in the documentary.
We started the actual production last October, almost a year ago. We finished actual production part of it in February, and then worked on the post-production February through May. The Community Advisory Board was involved in that process all the way through. A lot of the youths actually participated by coming to the interviews and asking some of the questions, as well as helping with audio, lighting, and schlepping around camera equipment and stuff like that. They were involved completely with it, the whole way, and when we got to the editing process, they helped select the footage that was going to be utilized.
Hines: The biggest financial sponsors were San Diego Foundation for Change.
Burklee: They provided money for the project, twice, through both their 1999 and 200 funding seasons.
Hines: The County of San Diego was also involved through the Departments of Health and Human Services and Youth and Community Services.
Zenger's: What would you say is the purpose of this film, and whats the intended audience?
Burklee: The purpose of the film is to take a look at the safety issues Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered youth face while theyre at school. It reflects very personal stories about their experiences. Its not necessarily all bad. Some are good, some are bad, some are exciting. Because the main message is safety and concerns of safety for our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered students, the intended audience is really anybody whos concerned about safety issues in our public schools. Or private, for that matter.
[Ariel Weininger entered the interview at this point.]
Ariel Weininger: I was a high school student when they came into my GSA [Gay-Straight Alliance] club a year and a half ago. Becky came in and told us about how they were starting a documentary and wanted some youth members, or youth people, to come and help out. I did.
Zenger's: I noticed that not all the interviewees were from San Diego, and I wondered about the logistics and expense of getting the people from out of town to participate.
Burklee: We were lucky that last year, after we started the production, we went to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force conference, and a couple of youth on our Community Advisory Board also went. While we were there, we located a bunch of youth from other states who wanted to share their stories. We felt it was really good to be able to show that its not just in one location or affects one certain type of person. Its really about everybody.
Zenger's: Of all the stories that you heard during the making of this film, which were the ones that affected or moved you the most, personally?
Hines: I don't think I could answer that, because they all really affected me personally, in different ways. What struck me most was, in some of the stories, just the ways the youth were able to be so proud of who they were and their involvement in the community. Another thing that really impressed me about the youth we interviewed is that most of them are not old enough to vote, but I think you'll agree, if you watch the documentary, they're old enough to make a big difference. The willingness for them to share their stories, and really open up to us, was very moving also.
Burklee: I think I agree with Kathy that it would be hard to pick just one, but the thing that impressed me most about the group as a whole was their ability to move through certain circumstances and become very strong people that really have had, and will probably continue to have, a powerful effect on their communities.
Weininger: What moved me most? Probably Danielle's, because she has to go through stuff I can't even begin to understand. Her story gave me a glimpse of how hard it must be for Transsexuals and how strong of a woman she is to have pulled through and be successful.
Zenger's: One of the reasons that we have these kinds of stories, and these kinds of films, is that, as has been observed in several places, people are coming out and accepting a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered identity much younger than was usually the case before. Usually, in my generation people didnt come out until their early 20s, and at a time in their lives when theyd already had some degree of sexual activity. In your film you have people coming out in their teens, many of them before they've actually had experience having sex with anybody. What do you think is driving this, that people are coming out earlier and earlier?
Burklee: I think the social atmosphere right now lends to that, with the growing amount of out people that are in the media and on television.
Weininger: Youth don't have to hide it as long anymore. People don't have to hide it as long anymore.
Burklee: Ive heard a lot of people, especially adults, older adults, say, Its a lot easier for youth now than it was before, and thats why theyre able to come out. I dont necessarily agree with that, because they have a whole new set of things they have to deal with because they are coming out early. But I think the social circumstances are making it so they can come out earlier not necessarily that its easier, but they can come out earlier.
Zenger's: In one of the moments in the film, when you did the interview with Brick [a teacher in Rancho Bernardo], she was talking about trying to set up a Gay and Lesbian support group and having a response from the school administration which essentially was, Whatever problems these kids are having behind this, they're bringing it on themselves by coming out this early, and its really not appropriate for them to do that. How would you respond to that?
Hines: I think it's appropriate for people to be who they are.
Weininger: The fact is there are a lot of youth out early, in their teens, and there is a need for a support group. The administration is looking over that need and blaming them for being Gay, being out.
Zenger's: When I read this in your press kit and saw it in the film, my immediate reaction was that the logic of the Rancho Bernardo administrators is also the logic behind the "don't ask, don't tell" policy: that straight people are just going to be homophobic; that in some cases theyre going to act out against Gays in their midst; and we have to accept that and do what we can to protect Gays from it; and that means the Gays have to cooperate by concealing their identity. How would you answer the argument that you just have to accept that straight people are going to do nasty things to Gay people, and that Gay people shouldnt make themselves targets by being out?
Burklee: I think one of the underlying principles that I think everybody learns from an early age is honesty. Young people now have the opportunity to be honest with their peers and the people that they spend a lot of time with on their school campuses, as well as with their families. To ask them to be anything but honest about who they are is just wrong. If you ask them to stay in the closet, and not to identify themselves, then youre asking them to be dishonest, and I dont think thats right. We all learn at a really, really young age that honesty is the best policy.
Zenger's: In terms of dealing with school people, one of the problems seems to be precisely that administrators, even if they arent homophobic themselves, do not take this stuff seriously. They react in ways that say, "Kids will be kids," and, "Its no big deal." What would you hope that they would get from this film, in terms of what it would take to convince them that this really is a big deal, and this is something that they need to be concerned about; they need to take action; and they need to make it clear that this kind of harassment, if it occurs in their schools, will not be tolerated?
Weininger: I think the fact that there is violence in the schools anyway, and they should not tolerate that, be it on a Gay person or a straight person. They should not let the fact that the person may be Gay, or is Gay, give them an excuse to glaze over the problem. There's a problem with the violence on anybody in the schools, and theyve got to address that problem.
Burklee: The underlying message of the documentary is student safety. I don't think that you would find very many administrators, if any, who would not agree that one of their primary responsibilities is to ensure that all youth have the opportunity to go to school in a safe environment. I would hope they would come away from viewing this documentary with a greater sense of that, and to step up to the challenge of making sure that that safety is extended to all students, including students who are or are perceived to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered.
Zenger's: One thing that surprised and disappointed me about the film is there was nothing in it showing schools that are handling this issue in ways that you would consider to be correct. That there wasn't a school represented where there is a functioning GSA, or however you would want it to be. There are a lot of horror stories in the documentary, and some really intense narratives by the students themselves and by school personnel like Brick who have tried to do something about the problem and havent been able. There doesnt seem to be anything in the film to tell the school personnel what you feel they should be doing about these issues and what they should be doing to ensure that students who are perceived to be Gay have a safe environment in school. Why did you leave that out?
Hines: There are schools that do have functioning and very supportive GSAs. But we really wanted to make the point that there are administrators and educators that dont address these issues. Thats what we wanted to focus on, because if all administrators and teachers did address these issues, we wouldn't really have an issue of harassment and discrimination in the schools.
Burklee: I did feel like there were some messages from individuals who participated on some things that can be done. Brick, for instance, talked about taking what she called teachable moments. [In the film, she talks about hearing the word faggot in her classroom and stopping the days lesson to teach her students what it originally meant.] When something happens in the classroom, teachers should be able to sit down and discuss it, not necessarily as part of any curriculum or planned classroom discussion.
The youth talked about the support of teachers, and stopping hate language which can culminate into hate violence. The lawyer [San Diego City Human Relations Commissioner M. E. Stephens], towards the end of the documentary, talked about the things students who are victims need to do: be sure to tell somebody, if not somebody at the school at first, with the idea that it does get back to the school; to write things down, to journal it and keep records; and to realize that there are laws that protect you, and that silence basically, as she says, is not the solution. Those were some of the messages that we hoped to convey.
Weininger: Even at my old high school, where we did have a functioning and pretty well-attended GSA, we still didn't get all that much support from the administration for the first two years we were there. We had to fight pretty hard to get this GSA, and the last I heard the administration has finally recognized them but aren't quite as supportive as they are the rest of the student clubs.
Zenger's: It seems like you're saying you dont think the school system as a whole is quite ready to be patted on the back on this issue.
Hines: Yes, that's it.
Zengers: In general, what do you hope this film will accomplish?
Burklee: Personally, I hope that people are able to hear these real-life experiences and get an idea of what its like for our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered students, and that they will agree that our school environment should be safe for all youth.
Hines: Another thing that we really want people to come away with is that students are protected, and they do have laws to protect them [at least in California and three other states].
The Conscience of a Progressive Council Candidate
interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
This article copyright © 2001 Mark Gabrish Conlan
The myth of Sixth District City Council candidate Donna Frye is that she was an ordinary small businessperson, managing a surf shop in partnership with her husband, who drifted into environmental activism when too many of their customers complained they could hardly ever surf anymore because San Diego's beaches were so often closed due to sewer spills and other pollution. The truth of Donna Frye is that she was an activist even before she was an adult.
San Diegos City Council District 6 votes to elect a new representative April 17, thanks to the resignation of former Councilmember Valerie Stallings after an investigation into her participation in a stock deal with San Diego Padres majority owner John Moores. Though no charges were brought against Moores, Stallings pled guilty to two misdemeanors and left the Council. A long-time friend of the Queer community, Stallings first won the Council seat in 1991 with the strong support of the San Diego Democratic Club. Stallings enthusiastically received club support in her re-election campaigns in 1995 and 1999 as well, even though her opponents, Mike Pallamary and Bruce Henderson, openly Gay-baited her and raised unfounded rumors about her own sexual orientation.
Though 11 people took out papers to run for the seat in the April 17 election, there are essentially six major contenders. Besides Frye, they are conservative Republican Pallamary, making his second try for the seat after losing to Stallings in 1995; moderate Republican Steve Danon, former chief of staff for County Supervisor Ron Roberts; moderate Democrats Kim Cox, former chair of the County Democratic Central Committee, and Gary Rotto, former Stallings staff member and executive director of the American Jewish Committee; and maverick Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat and part-time San Diegan Peter Navarro, who already unsuccessfully ran for Mayor in 1992, Supervisor in 1994 and U.S. Congress in 1996.
Zenger's: Lets start first with a little of your background, and how you got into political activism in the first place.
Donna Frye: I moved to San Diego in 1957 with my family, and attended school here for a couple of years. In 1960 we moved to England for two years, and I went to school there. Then we were in Naples for about six months, and afterwards we came back to San Diego. And that would have been I was in fifth grade, so Im not good at counting back, but 1962 or 1963, I guess.
My most early recollection of being an activist, and I don't know if this is political or not, but we were playing kickball out in the schoolyard. There was a girl on my team who was much larger than most of the other girls, and there was a little tiny girl. The big girl kept picking on the little girl, and I remember how angry I got that here was this girl who was obviously not able to defend herself, and being bullied and picked on, so I interceded. I was smaller than the big girl but bigger than the little girl, and I think it's just my nature to go to people, say, that maybe arent able or dont know how to defend themselves.
Growing up in the 1960's, of course we had the Vietnam war, which affected me directly because I worried about my brother, and whether or not he would get drafted and go to Vietnam and get killed. This was a serious thing. These were your friends that you grew up with, worrying about going to some country that you knew almost nothing about, for something that really wasnt called a war, and wondering whether you would ever see them again.
I remember when President Kennedy and Martin Luther King were shot, and all those issues came up. Probably one of the most graphic memories that I have of that time, besides the assassinations, was an image I saw on television where the police had firehoses turned on full blast, and were just blasting the African-Americans. These people were just being blown down the street. There were kids, and there were women, and it was just one of the most horrible images I've ever seen.
We also had the womens rights issues, and the fact that women could do the same work and get paid less. I remember in the seventh grade, when we had elective classes, I wanted to take drafting, and this other friend of mine decided that we would do it together. We were the only two women in this class, and I remember going in there and the instructor looking at us like we were from another planet. Then, rather rudely and abruptly informing us that they were just shy two drafting tables, and she and I should go back to home ec.
At the time I didn't know what to do. If I could go back to that day, I'd know what to do now, but at the time it was very intimidating. It was like women had a place, and we should be in home ec, and the guys should be drafting, and we shouldn't have auto shop, and we should go sew pillowcases and cook. So all those things probably shaped the way I view the world now.
I didn't go to college immediately after I graduated from high school. I went to work as a maid in hotels. I did a lot of cleaning and minimum-wage jobs, and then I went to a junior college in Sacramento called Cosumnes River College. I took a course in womens history, with an instructor who just coincidentally was named Dorothy Parker, and it was my first introduction to the fact that women actually had anything to do with anything besides sewing flags and Florence Nightingale and a few Presidents wives.
Dorothy was teaching this class, and our textbook was called Herstory. I remember being so angry that I had spent so many years, and had this education, and that I didn't know about Harriet Tubman and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and all these women that had contributed. That annoyed the hell out of me. I remember coming home, and I was just so enraged that I had not known that growing up as a little girl. I just felt like how did that all get chucked out?
So I got very involved in womens issues. I started an on-campus branch of the Women's Political Caucus, which I chaired. Because of my own experience in junior high school, we set up a girls math and science fair for seventh through ninth graders, to get them involved in engineering and those types of issues. The year that I graduated, I was awarded from the college the Wonder Woman award for my work on behalf of women.
I was going for a women's studies major, and I started at Sacramento State. But I was married at that time - not to my present husband and he battered me, and I left him and came back home to San Diego. I promptly realized that a women's studies degree, although it was something I really wanted, was probably not going to pay my bills. So I switched to a business degree and got a bachelor's in business administration degree at National University.
I was going to school at night, and then I was working full-time at a publishing company in Torrey Pines. They were literally poisoning us. The printing presses were downstairs, the offices were upstairs, and it was a completely enclosed building. The intake system for that building was located right where the trucks would park to do all the deliveries. So the fumes from the trucks would be sucked into the building, and it was essentially poisoning the employees and giving us awful headaches and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Nobody would say anything about it, so I went down to personnel and said, Look, weve got some really serious problems. You've got people evacuating the building. People are getting sick. You need to ask those trucks to please turn off their engines when they stop to do deliveries. And essentially I was told, If you don't like it, leave. I said, No, not only don't I like it, Im staying, and I think were going to organize a union. So I contacted the AFL-CIO and worked with the Office and Professional Employees International Union, the OPEIU. We started a union organizing drive at work, which didn't have the same ending as Norma Rae, but we did manage to change a lot of the working conditions.
I ended up having to leave, and in 1988 my husband Skip, whom I'd known since 1980, said, Why don't you just come and run the business end of my shop, and just get away from all this? Well just work together, and thatll be great. Skip was touring Australia for just a little over a month on a surf tour, and so I flew back to Australia to meet him, and decided it was time to have our own business. Thats how I got involved in the environmental issues. All these things have been a natural progression. As issues come up, I just get involved.
Zenger's: Youve just been showing me photos of the latest sewage contamination, and I'd like you to talk about why this keeps happening. Why does San Diego, which is supposed to be positioning itself as this great tourist town, have to keep closing the beaches which are supposed to be one of our great tourist attractions?
Frye: I always think of it just like I would with an alcoholic. An alcoholics not going to sober up until they admit theyve got a problem. That's what had been happening in San Diego. The politicians and a lot of the people in charge did not want to admit that there was a problem at all, because then they would have to deal with it. Then they would have to admit that there was pollution.
Another reason that they wanted to downplay it, and why things didnt get done, is that once you admit that you have a problem, then it gets out in the news, and heaven forbid, the tourists might find out and people might change their vacation plans. So you try to keep things under wraps sort of out of sight, out of mind, hope nobody finds out. The city also has a fix-on-failure policy, where they ignore things and dont have a good sense of how we prioritize things for the people that live here.
Also, you unfortunately have a lot of people in positions of power that dont have a sense of ownership, passion or concern about our natural resources. They don't use them, and they're more concerned about continuing on to the next level of their career rather than actually doing something about the existing issues. Also, people dont look at sewers as being glamorous. I mean, how often do you see a pump-station where they do ribbon-cutting?
But the thing is that its those basic issues, the unglamorous issues, that are the most important to people. Those are the things that most affect their daily lives. Those are the things people really care about. They want to be able to flush their toilets and have the waste go away. They want to be able to turn on their water and make sure its clean and safe. They want to be able to go to the beach, they want to be able to go to the bay, they want to be able to do these things that were supposed to do. The people that live here, that pay the taxes, that are stuck in the traffic jams, that are not able to go surfing, that are not able to use their free resources, those are the people that so often get ignored except at election time. And then all of a sudden, everybody shows up.
Zenger's: What would you identify as the other major issues in San Diego?
Frye: Energy, for one. I think a lot of the crisis is manufactured. I don't believe all of a sudden one day we ran out of energy. I dont buy it. I think the markets were manipulated. When they did the deregulation, they didn't allow the free-market system to work, so it was doomed from the start. Whether or not it would have worked had it been set up differently is debatable. I'm not going to go back and rehash that.
People need basic livable wages and a place to live, and be able to afford your rent, maybe buy a house. Those are pretty basic issues that just dont go away. People are concerned about their neighborhoods. People are concerned about their quality of life. Theyre concerned about being stuck in traffic. They're really concerned about the pollution issues as far as water quality. I dont think theres like one big issue that jumps out. They're all connected, and I think that you have to look at these things holistically.
One of the other ones is the ability of the public to access information. When people arent given the information they need, when theyre not told the truth when they're finally given a lot of the information, and when theyre not able to get their voices heard, so frustration and distrust set in and they feel hopeless. They feel like they don't have a voice, and they feel like they can't make a difference.
One of the big reasons why things are the way they are is because people aren't participating. It has to work both ways. The people have to get involved and let their voices be heard. As corny as it sounds, the power is with the people. And if the people abdicate their power, theres only so much an elected official can do. You can't save people from themselves. They have to participate in this government. They have to come out, and when they have things that displease them, they have to let people know. And they have to be part of the solution.
If they're going to abdicate their power to a politician, then dont yell at the politician when the politician takes the power. Look in the mirror a little bit, and ask, Where was I on voting day? What was I doing? I was too busy to send out something that I could probably just put on my mailbox, and then I could just put one little hole in one teeny piece of paper. But yet I'm going to holler and scream because I dont like what happened, or I dont like what theyre doing. So there's responsibility on both sides. It is a joint responsibility. When the people don't participate, what happens is that the people that do get their voices heard more. That means the democracy is not working.
Zenger's: Do you think that public ownership of the local utility is the direction in which we should be moving on the energy issue?
Frye: I'm not trying to be evasive, but I don't know. I look at our sewer systems, and more or less there's public ownership, right? But Im looking at what a mess they're in and how much money they're costing. The fact that they're public and they're available, I think, is critical. But I also look at the mismanagement of them. So that concerns me.
I think people should be able to have energy. And I think it should be something just like water, just like our basic services. But I get concerned when I see some of these bureaucracies that are not attentive to the public, and the public really doesn't have the ability to be a part of it. It's sort of like they're told this is how it will be. So that's why Im having trouble with that.
I guess what I'm looking for is some level of accountability, and what level of accountability so the public can get in there and say, Look, this isnt working, and get people in there that will be held accountable. So I think that's probably my problem, is that I want some sort of accountability so that the public doesnt get hosed.
When I was living in Sacramento, we had public utilities, and it worked fine. All the people that paid into the utilities were owners of it. I like that system. I think its a good system, as long as the system has some controls. Certain things, to me, belong to us by right. Those basic services. And thats what government is supposed to provide: basic services.
Zenger's: That's an interesting statement, because it seems that overall that's what our society is moving away from: much more towards a conception that you should get only what you've worked for and earned by yourself, and if you are poor its because you are a loser, you have fallen in the rat race, and youre not entitled to any special consideration. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, get going, get into the system
Frye: How do you pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you dont even have a pair of boots? How would you do that? It just seems to me that the people who have a lot, maybe need to take a step back down and see where they came from and how they got there. There are a lot of people that don't have the same talents and skills, and you don't shove their faces in it.
When you pay taxes to a government, where it is something that you by law must do, there is a basic responsibility of that government to provide basic services for all the people. I don't care how wealthy they are. I don't care how poor they are. And you certainly don't say, Well, gee, you're just not quite as talented, and you haven't gotten the same breaks that I have, so screw you.
A lot of people that are doing everything they can, and because of just some quirk, just some fluke, they've lost their jobs and they're in the streets. And they've got degrees and such, and that just I almost start shaking when I think about it. It just pisses me off. I'm sorry. It's just ridiculous.
Zenger's: So many things in politics today seem calculated to make the rich people even richer and the poor people even poorer.
Frye: Well, how much money does one person need? I mean, Skip and I are not wealthy people. We work hard, but people that build surfboards for a living are not getting rich, I assure you. Skip does hand work. We are not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination - not that that's a good or bad thing; its just what it is. We work hard, make sure that I can pay my bills, put food on the table.
I'm starting to get angry. I'm sorry. I don't understand people sometimes. I really don't. I mean, what do they think government is supposed to do? I mean, really? There's all this talk about privatization, that if we just have somebody do it privately, that they can do it for cheaper. And if its cheaper, then, by God, that must be the best way to do it, because it costs less money.
Well, thats ridiculous, too. The reason it costs less money is because the people doing the work probably aren't getting paid any kind of reasonable wage. They probably don't have medical or any kind of health benefits. They probably don't have any kind of dependent benefits. And they probably are working two jobs just to have basic ends meet.
If somebody puts in a days work, they should be able to have a place to live. They should be able to have medical care. They should be able to have food on their table. They should be able to have the basic things that people need to live. I dont think thats asking too much. If we've gotten to a place in our society where we think that's giving people a handout, I think we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.
Zenger's: In San Diego, where for a lot of people that isn't the case, how do we get there from here? And in particular, how would you, if you are elected to the City Council, be able to move us in that direction?
Frye: Once again, number one, you identify that there is a problem and you admit that there's a problem. And you let people know that there's a problem. You don't keep denying these things and stepping over people that are laying in the streets, and pretend that they're not there and that you don't see them. You say we have a problem, and then you start to try to get that message out.
Its no different from the other type of work I do. You start off by getting people together. There are people who have been working on these issues for many, many years, probably all their lives, and they probably have some wonderful suggestions on how to accomplish some of this. You need to bring those people together, and then you've got to make sure that that information goes back out, and that people are aware of the existing programs, people know whats going on.
The other thing is you start shifting your priorities about how you look at people. You start looking at a budget and you say, O.K., weve got this much money, we have this many people, and we have this many problems, and you start shifting priorities around. I mean, to me it seems like, you know, the people that have the least are the people we need to start looking at a lot harder.
You also have to start looking at the way we do, like for example, in our general plan and our zoning laws. You have to change the zoning ordinances and things like that, so when these giant projects come forward and they say, Well, well build some affordable housing five years from now, someday, somewhere, you say, No. What I think we will do for mitigation is I think well do the mitigation first, and then when you complete the mitigation, then well start looking at your projects.
Zenger's: When I interviewed [former City Councilmember] John Hartley, he talked a great deal about what he called capture. He meant that once you get elected to something, even as relatively low on the political totem pole as a San Diego City Councilmember, suddenly you're surrounded by people who, unlike the average citizen, get paid a salary by some major interest group to lobby you. He said a lot of people who start out running for office with the best of intentions get in this atmosphere where the only people they talk to on any regular basis are their own staff people and the lobbyists for big business interests of all sorts, who are asking for some favor that will benefit their big businesses and make them even richer.
Frye: Well, they're going to have to figure out a way to airlift me off the planet for that to happen. Im hanging out with my friends, and people like my mom and my husband and my friends and the entire surfing community, and the environmental community, and the people I work on with women's issues, and kids. So its going to be really hard to completely alienate me, after 50 years, from everybody I associate with.
To people who know me, I say, If I ever become what I'm fighting against, take me out and whup me. I mean that and they will. Skip is out in the community all the time, so I could see him paddling around on his surfboard and someone going, Hey, Frye, get that wife of yours whats wrong with her? She's turning into, you know, a politician! No, I'll be knocked around. I've got too many friends, too many people, that I wouldn't allow it to happen. Because I'm not going to divorce myself from my life, you know. I mean, the people that lobby me. I get lobbied a lot.
Zenger's: In the mid-1990's when there was actually a female majority on the City Council, but at the moment there's only one woman [Toni Atkins in District 3]. And of all the candidates in the Sixth District, you're the only woman. Do you think being the only woman on the ballot will help you?
Frye: Its not going to hurt me, but at the same time its not like I'm saying, Hey, I'm a woman, vote for me. I think I have a pretty substantial record for working with this community. I hope that will carry it. But the fact that I'm a woman, and there's only one other woman on [the current Council], of course that's an issue. We need to have more diversity. That's a given. But I don't think that's the main reason someone should vote for me. I've had men and women in races, and I look at the most qualified candidate, Suffice to say I think I'm the most qualified candidate in this election, and I just happen to be a woman.
Click here to visit Donna Frye's Page.
Donna Frye won the election for the vacant sixth district seat after a hard-fought campaign against a well-financed establishment opponent. And won by over 1,000 votes we might add.
Challenging Meat-Eating and the "Medical Myth"
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
This article copyright 1999 Mark Gabrish Conlan
Thirty years ago, John Robbins was the heir apparent to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream company his father and uncle had founded. Today, he's an alternative-health activist and author whose two best-known books, Diet for a New America [1987; republished 1998] and Reclaiming Our Health , systematically explode virtually all we think we know about how our bodies work, what sorts of food are good for them and what we ought to do if and when they get sick.
Diet for a New America is a strongly argued plea for vegetarianism, making the case against meat-eating from a variety of perspectives. Robbins meticulously documents the horrific abuses suffered by animals in modern-day "factory farms," the environmental havoc wreaked by destruction of the rain forest and the sheer waste of resources involved in raising grain to feed animals instead of using it to feed people directly, and the health hazards associated with eating meat. He challenges the orthodox dietetic concept of the "four basic food groups" and documents that most of what we think we know about the benefits of eating meat, eggs and dairy products has actually been force-fed us since childhood by the industries that produce those things.
Reclaiming Our Health is in some ways an even more radical book. It takes on what Robbins calls the "medical myth" the idea that "health" is a commodity we need to purchase from doctors, pharmacists or other members of the medical establishment. It exposes the ways in which doctors and hospitals routinely treat pregnancy as a "disease" and force new mothers to give birth to the next generation under the most dehumanizing and profit-minded conditions possible. Robbins also explodes the myth of cancer chemotherapy and demonstrates that these toxic "treatments" have never been shown by legitimate science to have any value at all.
John Robbins' whole work is a call to us to make our own personal declarations of independence from trade-industry propaganda that has led us to consume unhealthy foods, from a medical establishment more interested in making money off the sick than keeping people healthy, and from a whole conception of our own powerlessness in the face of the pronouncements of "truth" from a corporate-controlled medical, scientific and agricultural establishment. When he spoke at the Compassionate Living "Fall Fest '99" in Ocean Beach on October 3, Robbins asked his audience to "use your gifts, your joys, your sorrows and your connectedness to create joys for all beings."
Zenger's: I've noticed all the publicity about you talks about your status as heir to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire and how you left that and became an alternative-health activist. What actually led you out of that life and into the one you have now?
Robbins: It was many years ago, and the media have made a lot out of that. It's not something thats as important to be. But my father and my uncle founded Baskin-Robbins, and my uncle Baskin died about 30 years ago from a heart attack. When that happened I asked my father if he thought there might be any connection between my uncle's fatal heart attack and the amount of ice cream he would eat. My father said, "Absolutely not. His ticker just got tired and stopped working."
My family's commitment to denying that there could be any connection between what you ate and the state of your health was really quite profound. You could kind of understand that. This was a family that by that time had manufactured and sold more ice cream than any in the history of the world. But it was pretty hard for me to overlook. My uncle died, and my father developed a serious form of diabetes, high blood pressure, and so forth.
The sugar in ice cream is not healthy. Every mother knows that kids who eat too much sugar, their nervous system gets unbalanced. Ice cream is basically frozen butterfat and sugar. Although I've never said and never thought than a single ice-cream cone would hurt anybody, the more ice cream that people eat the more likely they are, eventually, to have a heart attack or to have one or more of the forms of cancer that are fat-related because they're hormone-dependent: prostate cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer and so on.
Baskin-Robbins had a slogan when I was there: " We make people happy." And I didn't think that was true. We made people sick. We may have provided momentary pleasure, but it wasn't pleasure that was life-affirming. It wasn't pleasure that was healthy in a deeper sense. And I didn't want to be part of it.
Zenger's: I read Diet for a New America with great interest, and it seemed to me to be a compendium of just about every argument you could think of for being a vegetarian.
Robbins: Well, every argument you could think of when I wrote it! There are a lot more that have come since. When I wrote that, Mad Cow Disease had not yet emerged. When I wrote that, we hadn't seen the rash of E. coli poisonings we have had subsequently. So I just thought I'd mention a few others that I didn't include.
Zenger's: One thing I noticed that was not in that book was the actual nuts-and-bolts of how you can get an adequate amount of nutrition from a vegetarian diet.
Robbins: That's true. That's true. The position I was taking was to make people aware that what they ate had an impact not only on their own health but also on the greater world: on the environment, on the lives and deaths of the world's poor, on so many of our basic economic and social realities. I wanted people not to feel so isolated. There's something about our society that makes people feel very, very isolated and disempowered. So that was my intention.
There are many kinds of approaches to a more vegetarian diet, and I think they're all improvements over the standard American diet. I didn't want to get into the controversies over raw foods or macrobiotics or any of the other factions among vegetarians. I did later write a book called May All Be Fed, which has a lot of recipes in it. I also founded a non-profit organization called EarthSave, and it's designed to help people with those questions. There's also an outstanding organization called Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine, in Washington, D.C., that people can go to for help with that. And there are increasing numbers of health food stores and co-ops and places where cooking classes are available, which are very helpful, too.
Zenger's: I was particularly struck by the argument in your book Reclaiming Our Health that the people in charge of conventional medicine have set themselves up as an almost religious authority that makes these kinds of proclamations and excepts them to be accepted without question. Given that most Americans have been raised to take what their doctor says pretty much on faith, where do you think we need to go in terms of getting people to challenge that?
Robbins: The idea that "health" comes from the doctor, or from the drugstore, or from the hospital, is I call the "medical myth." I think we need to expose that myth when its operational, and instead replace it with the understanding that health is much more a product of the way we live, the lifestyle choices that we make, the food that we eat, the air that we breathe, the kinds of relationships that we have with each other and with ourselves, the way we care for our environment. Healthy living really is a good diet and a good attitude about our relationships. A positive and healthy attitude is going to go a long way towards making us less dependent on the medical system.
I think the culture is ready to hear that because the medical system is such a mess. It is really, really in terrible shape. Everyone in it the doctors, the nurses, the administrators, and particularly the patients is extremely frustrated today by the way it's going. And no one is happy. No one is pleased. So when we help people to understand that there are things they can do to prevent these diseases from occurring in the first place and secondarily, if and when they do get sick, to make their bodies much more able to respond in a healing way to the problem people are ready to hear that, more than they were, say, 20 years ago.
We grew up with the idea that M.D. stands for "medical deity," and you should basically give your power away to anybody in a white coat. There were television shows like Marcus Welby, M.D. and Dr. Kildare that presented the most ridiculously absurd ideas of doctors as super-people. But people are increasingly aware that they need to take responsibility for their own lives and health, and that's good.
Zenger's: There actually seem to be two dynamics going on. You've talked about this rather optimistic idea that people are becoming more enlightened and more accepting of the fact that they can do a lot without the experts to improve their own health. At the same time, though, as part of the growing corporatization and marketization of society, the scientific establishment seems to be asserting more power than ever before.
Theyre saying that they ought to have the right to splice meat genes into our vegetables, irradiate our food and genetically engineer our food. Theyre also saying that we have no right even to know what products contain these genetic alterations because the "experts" have already determined for us that they are "safe," and therefore we don't need to know that and it would only prejudice us against these products if we did know.
Robbins: The advocates of genetic engineering say it's about world hunger. They're saying that as the global population expands, so must its reliable food supply and that those questioning genetic engineering are nervous Nellies. But the truth is that neither Monsanto nor any other genetic engineering companies are developing genetically engineered crops that might solve global food shortages.
If the goal of genetically engineered crops was to feed the hungry, then Monsanto and the others would be developing seeds with certain predictable characteristics, such as the ability to grow on substandard or marginal soils; the ability to produce more high-quality protein; the ability to increase per-acre yield without using expensive chemicals; or the ability to withstand drought.
But none of the genetically engineered crops now available or in development have any of these desirable characteristics. They're designed, really, to increase the sale of the biocides produced by the companies that are selling the genetically engineered seeds. Monsanto's Roundup Ready product line is their feature in their genetically engineered world, and it's designed to withstand heavy doses of Monsanto's all-time top money-making herbicide, Roundup.
Their second line of genetically engineered crops contains the gene from the Bt natural pesticide. Bt [Bacillus thurigiensis] is a naturally occurring soil organism that kills caterpillars that like to eat the leaves of many crops. But now Monsanto has come along and engineered the Bt gene into cotton and corn and potatoes and so forth. And every cell of these plants contains the Bt gene and produces the Bt toxin. It's like saturating the entire crop with Bt day after day after day.
The result is entirely predictable. When insect pests nibble on any part of these crops, the only ones who will survive are the ones who are resistant to the Bt toxin. Even Dow Chemicals own scientists, the ones who are developing their own line of Bt-containing crops, say that at the most 10 years these seeds will have no more relevance and Bt itself will have no more agricultural usefulness because so many insects will have developed resistance to the toxin. This means that Monsanto and Dow and the others will profit in the short term, but they will destroy the usefulness of the most important natural pesticide in organic agriculture.
Zenger's: How, on a political level, do you organize against that; and what do you think people on our side of this debate need to do to keep open our right to know what is in our food?
Robbins: We have to spread the word. We have to organize. There are a number of different non-profit groups doing that. EarthSave has taken on the issue of genetically engineering food in a major way. So are many other groups: some specifically focusing on the labeling issue; others on some of the deeper environmental issues. The Union of Concerned Scientists is taking it on.
What people need to do at the individual level is to educate themselves. There's a Web site that I could suggest in terms of this particular topic. Its www.rachel.org. Its Rachels Environment and Health Weekly, a really outstanding group in terms of educating people on this and other issues. People need to know, talk about it with each other, let their elected officials know, and do actions that display and express the outrage that a lot of us feel.
Its interesting that everywhere else on this planet, outside of this country, the biotech industry is being met with pie in the face. In April 1999 the seven largest grocery chains in Europe made a public commitment not to carry genetically engineered foods. In Ireland, Great Britain, France and India, farmer-led uprisings have burned and destroyed Monsantos test crops. In India, actually, Monsanto has to grow their genetically engineered plants in greenhouses constructed of bulletproof plastic. Everywhere else in the world people are rightly suspicious of this technology. These same companies who now want control over the world's food supply, who have brought us PCBs and CFC's and DDT and Agent Orange. And they say, "Trust us." You know, screw them!
Zenger's: I remember in the Los Angeles Times about a year ago one letter-writer noted that the European Community was taking a much stronger position than the United States, not only against genetic engineering but also on protecting people's privacy rights in computer databases. He wrote, 'Hmmm, it seems like the European Community is the one that's really looking after my interests. Where do I sign up for leaving the United States and joining the European Community?'
Robbins: It's amazing, actually. You're right. Here we have Sandy Berger, the director of the U.S. National Security Council, prevailing upon the leaders of the other nations to support the immediate and widespread use of the technology. Here we have Monsanto contributing many millions of dollars to Clinton's campaigns, and then flying reporters around, including a stop in the Oval Office. When the French were reluctant to allow Monsanto's seeds to sprout on French soil, we saw Secretary of State Madeleine Albright interceding on Monsantos behalf. And when the French still resisted, we saw both Clinton and Gore personally making phone calls to the French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, about the issue.
Why has the U.S. government fought the labeling of food products containing genetically engineered foods? Why have our officials decreed that no public records need be kept of which farms are using genetically engineered seeds? Is there some advantage to keeping the public in the dark? Is there some advantage to making it nearly impossible for epidemiologists to track the impact of eating these foods on peoples health? Why is the U.S. government so gung-ho on genetically engineered foods when every other nation, rightfully, is being very cautious?
There's the usual fact that our elected officials are bought and sold by companies like Monsanto. But I think theres more to it. I think our government is looking at genetically engineered crops as a new instrument of foreign policy. If a nations staple foods are grown from seeds they have to purchase year after year from a handful of U.S. corporations, how likely is that nation to refuse to play ball with the U.S. government? They say it's about world hunger. I think its about world domination.
Zenger's: I was very struck by the attack on the cancer industry and the chemotherapy scam in Reclaiming Our Health. It seems that this has taken a particularly sinister turn in that for a lot of diseases people are being encouraged, on the basis of these various genetic tests or antibody tests or this test or that test, to take "treatments" for diseases they dont have. For example, I recently published did a major report on how pregnant women are forced to, if they test so-called "HIV-positive," are forced to undergo treatment with highly toxic chemotherapies.
Robbins: Oh, that's one of the most absolutely offensive things. I just find that despicable. There are a lot of people who are outraged about that, who are becoming vocal. Add your voice to theirs, join them, find them. Don't try to be alone in this. Alone we can't do very much.
I think one of the things that holds us back is fear of our own anger, or fear of our own grief. If you get really involved and put your butt on the line, you're exposed, and you're going to feel even more deeply the lunacy of what passes for sanity in our culture really, the craziness of the directions that we're going. You're going to feel it more intensely, and a lot of us dont want to do that, so we bury ourselves and distract ourselves and trivialize who we really are. We need all of our power in order to respond to this situation. And we need each other.
The mainstream media that a lot of us think of as bringing us "news" and bringing us "objective reporting" of reality and so forth, are anything but that. Theyre owned increasingly by multinational corporations who have an agenda to promote the sale of their products. We don't have "journalism," in the sense of an objective purveyor of truth, in the mainstream media is or very, very little of it; and even what we do have is deeply compromised. It's very sad, but thats the situation.
Zenger's: One thing that has struck me particularly about the issue of AIDS is that not only do you have the usual suspects the medical establishment, the giant pharmaceutical companies that are making enormous amounts of money but even a lot of otherwise progressive people who have bought wholesale into the AIDS mythology. They're saying, for example, "We need to ensure that Third World countries have full access to all the AIDS treatments," instead of questioning whether the AIDS treatments are really actually doing anybody any good.
Robbins: AIDS is a very recent phenomenon in the sense of the public eye, and its taking people a while to realize that the HIV = AIDS = death equation isn't holding up. It's not true. I actually think of Magic Johnson's story as an interesting one because he bought that whole thing. This great, popular basketball player had to retire, even though he was still at the peak of his powers as a player. And my God, he's still around, and hes still doing great. Hes such a public example of the fact that a person who tests "HIV-positive" is not necessarily doomed. But unfortunately he attributes his survival and so forth to the drugs he's taken, because hes done all that kind of stuff whereas the odds are he's probably surviving in spite of those drugs. This is just an example of what were dealing with, in terms of the cultural bias.
Zenger's: I don't know how often I've seen it reported in the mainstream media as fact that the decline in deaths from AIDS is due to the new therapies that were introduced in 1996, when in fact the evidence from the United States Centers for Disease Control shows both the rates of new AIDS diagnoses and the rates of deaths declining before those drugs became commonly available.
Robbins: My own guess is, insofar as the virus is involved, the virus is mutating viruses tend to mutate very rapidly anyway to a less virulent form. There are other factors as well. I don't pretend to be an AIDS expert, but I do know the drugs hurt a lot of people. And for people to take them because doctors say so we have this belief, you know, if youre sick and youre lacking "health," you go to the doctor to get some "health." And the form that he gives it to you in is a shot or a pill, and then youre "healthier" because youve been given "health." That's what I meant by the medical myth that health comes from a doctor.
It's like, if you run out of gas, then you go to the gas station to get some gas. So if you run out of "health," you go to the doctor and get some "health." He gives you a prescription, and you go to a drugstore and fill it, and you dutifully take it or you get it injected into you. This idea that "health" comes from outside of ourselves is really profoundly disrespectful to who we are and what our powers are as people and as souls. There's a lot of profit to be made from people who believe that they have no powers within themselves, because then you need everything from outside yourself. So you just go out buying everything, and youre a perfect prisoner of the system.
But people who are strong in themselves, who love themselves, who think for themselves and are self-reliant, healthy and balanced in their own relationships to their souls and to their lives, aren't easy prey for the advertisers and for the marketing of the multinationals. They are people who uphold life and affirm life, and stand for a different way of living. And what I find is that when you take the risks involved in standing up for what you believe in, you grow. You grow more capable, more responsible, and more committed as well.
Cut the Crap: Make Pot Legal
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN, Editor
On May 14 the United States Supreme Court, which is supposedly in the business of upholding your rights under a supposedly democratic system, instead issued yet another decision to take away your rights. The Court unanimously voted, 8-0 (one justice not participating because his brother, a lower federal judge, had been involved earlier), that states don't have the right to legalize the distribution of marijuana for medical uses because the U.S. Congress specifically voted in 1970 that marijuana has none.
The specific case involved the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, which was set up under California's pioneering medical marijuana law, Proposition 215, passed by the state's voters in November 1996. In January 1998 the U.S. government got a court injunction against the Cooperative to stop it from selling marijuana to patients. When the Cooperative continued to do so anyway, the U.S. court authorized federal drug enforcement agents to raid the place and shut it down. The Cooperative appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which set aside the original injunction and ordered the judge who issued it, Charles Breyer (brother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer), to craft a new one allowing individuals who documented "medical necessity" to purchase marijuana through the club.
The Clinton Administration's Department of Justice appealed this to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court basically ruled that since Congress had passed an amendment to the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 stating flatly that marijuana had no recognized medical uses, no one accused of distributing marijuana in violation of federal law could plead a defense of medical necessity. In fact, the majority opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas - representing the same "Gang of Five" (himself, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy) who recently gutted the federal civil rights act by refusing to allow private lawsuits to enforce it, and who also put George W. Bush in the White House - went out of its way to indicate that Congressional law even barred a state from allowing individuals personally to possess marijuana for medical uses.
The most striking thing about this ruling is it sets up 535 politicians as the final arbiters of scientific truth in the United States. Under Justice Thomas's logic, the U.S. Congress can legislate anything and the courts and the states meekly have to go along. If the tobacco industry were able to lobby Congress to pass a bill that states cigarettes do not cause cancer, that would be the law of the land and individuals would be unable to cite scientific evidence to U.S. courts or state legislatures that smoking should be restricted because it does cause cancer. If the Congress were to decide that vitamins and mineral supplements were medically useless and therefore should be banned, then by this logic individuals appealing for the right to make, sell and use these products would not be allowed to submit scientific evidence that they are useful.
Overall, the history of governments getting involved in scientific decisions is a bleak and sordid one. The Vatican hierarchy (not only a church but a government since it directly ruled over one-third of Italy until the late 19th century) demolished scientific inquiry in Italy when it sent Giordano Bruno to the stake and put Galileo under house arrest for daring to say the earth orbited the sun. The Soviet government destroyed Russian genetics by insisting on the "truth" of Lysenko's theories in the 1940's. Since World War II the U.S. government has repeatedly intervened in public health issues - insisting as a matter of law that fluoridating water is good, nuclear power is safe, and HIV causes AIDS - and used those interventions to make it as difficult as possible for scientists who disagree to present contradictory evidence.
The Supreme Court's latest ruling just heightens the absurdity of the "war on drugs" and the extraordinary and useless sacrifices being demanded of society to prosecute it. So far we have virtually destroyed the Fourth Amendment protections against searches and seizures, and have set up a scheme of "asset forfeiture" under which if you are charged with a drug crime, even if you are eventually acquitted, your home, car and other property can be taken away. We have filled the prisons with nonviolent offenders through high minimum sentences for marijuana (and also disproportionate sentences for crack over powder cocaine, thus making sure low-income drug users suffer far stiffer legal penalties than high-income ones). We have fueled a boom in public and private prison construction as well as jacking up the income of pharmaceutical companies for drug testing.
We have also provided an enormous income opportunity for street gangs, which were transformed in the 1980's from minor nuisances to major social threats with the profits from illegal drugs and the weapons they were able to buy with them. We have destabilized country after country in the pursuit of so-called "narcoterrorists," and are about to stage another Vietnam War in Colombia to fight Left-wing liberation armies under the guise of the "war on drugs." And we have done all this in the name of controlling a substance - marijuana - which, while not totally harmless, is certainly no more dangerous or life- or health-threatening than alcohol or tobacco, which remain legal.
When Zenger's originally endorsed Proposition 215 in our special 1996 election issue, I wrote, "The U.S. drug laws' continuing equation of a relatively benign substance like marijuana with genuinely dangerous and deadly hard drugs is not only stupid public policy, it also deprives us of the many potential uses of hemp as an industrial material." In light of the Supreme Court's decision, many medical marijuana advocates are calling for an appeal to Congress to amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow its use for medical reasons. I say it's time to cut the crap and demand the legalization of marijuana for all uses: medicinal, industrial and recreational.
From our Culture section...
THE PRINCE MYSHKINS:
Dazzling Musical Satirists Transcend Folk Boundaries
interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
"Hi, were the Prince Myshkins and were not your high school band,
We were going to do a song on gun control but we got canned."
Those are the opening lines of "The Ten Commandments Mambo," the first song on the Prince Myshkins year-old CD, The Prince Myshkins Shiny Round Object. The Prince Myshkins are Rick Burkhardt, vocals and accordion; and Andy Gricevich, vocals and guitar; two transplanted Midwesterners who got together in 1994 and have lived in San Diego since 1997. Though little known outside San Diego and their original stomping grounds in Illinois, they play to S.R.O. crowds at local coffeehouses and have become favorites at progressive political events as well. The Prince Myshkins style is to take the most grotesque, and sometimes gruesome, subjects they can think of high school shootings, the bombing of Kosovo, genetic engineering of food crops, George W. Bushs "Strateregy" for getting to be President, traffic jams, public-opinion polls, government subsidies for sports stadia, the "Defense of Marriage Act," homophobic families and why on earth Queers would want to serve in the U.S. military - and make musically gripping, lyrically acerbic songs about them.
Off stage, as well as on, Burkhardt and Gricevich seem almost compulsive about seeing the grimly humorous side of just about anything. Zenger's has caught the Myshkins' act several times, and though their between-songs patter is actually pretty well rehearsed, they bounce similar witticisms back and forth in private conversation. Much of the interview was accompanied by Gricevich laughing at what Burkhardt was saying, and vice versa.
Surprisingly, given that Burkhardt was the music major in college and Gricevich the literatire major, it's Burkhardt whos the more verbal of the two. He's also a professional concert composer, winner of the 2000-2001 Thomas Nee Commissioning Composer grant from the La Jolla Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. His piece for the La Jolla Symphony Chorus, premiered last March 17 and 18, was a 25-minute combination of classical chorus writing, spoken text, natural human noises and performance art called The Rattlers Narrative. Burkhardt assembled the works text from some poems by the 1930's Spanish Gay poet Federico Garcia Lorca and some more recent letters by officials of the U.S. Border Patrol - at least one of which, defending the use of life-threatening plastic handcuffs, was so viciously ironic that if Burkhardt hadn't used it in The Rattlers Narrative he'd probably have built a Prince Myshkins song around it. The Prince Myshkins have been compared to Mark Russell as political satirists in song and Romanovsky and Phillips as a Gay folk duo singing original material, but in this interviewer's opinion they're far ahead of that level and within hailing distance of their self-proclaimed (or self-confessed) influences: the Marx Brothers, Tom Lehrer, Monty Python.
Catch them as soon as you have the opportunity, and get their CD either at one of their gigs or online at their Web site, www.hiddenagendamusic.com/myshkins.
This article copyright (c) Mark Gabrish Conlan.
I want to visit the Myshkins' page
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