Why Gays Have So Far to Go

Writers at two major dailies demand "tolerance" for anti-gay bigotry.

Gays and lesbians have made a lot of progress in the past decade in their difficult struggle for equality, but if the opinions of two Bay Area newspapers are any indication, then they still have a long way to go. On Monday, the San Francisco Chronicle, the hometown paper of one of the largest gay and lesbian communities in the world, preached “tolerance” for those who spend large sums of money to strip gays and lesbians of a basic human right.

And late last week and over the weekend, Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson and Oakland Tribune columnists Tammerlin Drummond and Bryon Williams essentially told the East Bay gay and lesbian community that the only way they’ll ever attain equality is to shut up, get back in line, and don’t dare challenge the status quo. It was akin to telling blacks and whites in the 1960s who fought to overturn anti-miscegenation laws that they would have achieved what they wanted sooner if they were nicer, more polite, and more “tolerant” of those who sought to deny them equality.

So why do the Chron and Trib sound as if they’re stuck in some 1950s time warp? It appears that part of it has to do with how they view the fight for civil rights, and their opinions provide insight into why it has been so difficult for gays and lesbians to win the right to marry. The Chron, Johnson, Drummond, and Williams all maintained that they support gay marriage. And yet they strongly criticized gays and lesbians who are attempting to block the reappointment of Lorenzo Hoopes, one of the biggest backers of Proposition 8, to Oakland’s Paramount Theatre board of directors.

They said Hoopes had a right to spend $26,000 to illegalize same-sex marriage, and that his opponents should just stay quiet about it. But what if Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums had nominated someone who financed a campaign that outlawed interracial marriage? It seems highly unlikely that these same writers would be telling people to shut up.

In fact, their advocacy of silence ignores history. There is no evidence that bigotry has ever been defeated by keeping one’s mouth shut or “tolerating” those who discriminate. One needs to look no farther than the words of Martin Luther King Jr. in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” when he argued forcefully against those who told him that he had crossed the line in the struggle for civil rights.

Secondly, it appears as if they completely misunderstand the First Amendment. They argued that Hoopes has a right to spend lots of money backing state-sanctioned discrimination, but that gays and lesbians have no corresponding right to challenge him. It’s as if the First Amendment only protects him, as if the beliefs he holds had been persecuted for centuries. The reality is the Constitution does not take sides. It guarantees the free speech rights of both Hoopes and gays and lesbians. They have every right to mount a public campaign to stop his appointment to a public board.

The marketplace of ideas is a cornerstone of democracy. It can sometimes be a loud and messy process, but the premise is that when all the shouting is done, the best ideas will rise to the top. And eventually, bigoted and discriminatory views will be seen just as they are and discarded on the scrap heap of history.

Chevron to Close Refinery?

There’s been speculation in recent weeks that Chevron may close its 100-year-old Richmond refinery because of declining revenues. Drew Voros, business editor for the Tribune and Contra Costa Times, blamed environmentalists and liberal members of the Richmond City Council who have fought to stem pollution at the refinery, claiming that they’re forcing Chevron to close the facility. However, an industry expert quoted in the Chronicle said it’s unlikely that Chevron will leave Richmond, because there’s too much money to be made in the California market.

Oil market analyst Allen Good of the Morningstar research firm noted that Chevron’s West Coast properties are among its most profitable. Plus, if Chevron were to close its Richmond refinery, it would have to spend more money shipping gasoline blended in Southern California. “Those refineries may be safe,” Good said of Chevron’s California plants, including Richmond. “It could be some of the smaller ones that they have in the US that could take a hit.”

Chevron has said that it plans to cut jobs and that its domestic refineries are losing up to $600,000 a day, but has not disclosed whether those losses apply to its California plants. The rumored Richmond closure also could be nothing more than an effort to convince environmentalists to drop their lawsuit that blocked a massive expansion of the Richmond plant last year because of concerns over increased pollution. Chevron also is likely apprehensive by a renewed city council effort to increase taxes on the Richmond refinery to make up for its impacts on the city.

Three-Dot Roundup

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums exercised his power to break a city council tie vote for the first time last week, sending former Planning Commissioner Michael Lighty to the port commission. … Dellums’ personal financial woes also worsened when the IRS placed a new $13,638 lien against him for failing to pay enough taxes in 2008, pushing his total federal tax debt to more than $250,000. … UC Berkeley is selling personal seat licenses that guarantee football fans lifetime rights to seats in hopes of financing a $320 million retrofit of Memorial Coliseum. … An Alameda County Superior Court judge refused to issue an immediate restraining order against fraternities after neighbors filed suit, claiming that frat parties are out of control. … Acclaimed Berkeley High football coach Alonzo Carter left the school to take over as head coach at Contra Costa College. … And the state Supreme Court struck down limits on personal possession of medical marijuana, saying voters had the sole authority to make such restrictions.

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