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SF Public Affairs Group Plans Month of LGBT Programs

by Jim E. Winburn

Bay Area Reporter

Saturday August 2, 2014

The Commonwealth Club has planned an ambitious slate of LGBT programming for August that will take audiences beyond a discussion of past and present human rights struggles for LGBT citizens. The intimate and engaging forums will examine whether the community's social and political accomplishments are actually enough.

The club's 2014 "Platforum" series, entitled "The LGBT Journey," will offer audience members a variety of viewpoints from noteworthy speakers who will discuss their own activism and experiences, while defining past and present civil rights challenges for LGBT people.

And it is the personal narrative that is vital to understanding the community's struggle for equality, according to former Ambassador James C. Hormel, who was the first openly gay person to hold the diplomatic post when he served in Luxembourg after being appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Hormel will kick off the series with "From Ignorance to Acceptance: How the LGBTQ Movement Has Evolved in a Lifetime" Monday, August 4 at 6 p.m.

A member of the board of governors of the Commonwealth Club, Hormel told the Bay Area Reporter that the LGBT series is a special opportunity to discuss and appreciate the importance of speaking out, coming out, and reflecting on the latest marriage equality outcomes.

"I think that all of us who are in this constituency, whether we are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning ... we have been scarred to a certain degree by how this constituency has been treated," Hormel said in a phone interview. "I think it's quite a remarkable phenomenon that same-sex couples now can get married in so many different locations. It's stunning actually, considering where we were 11 years ago. Eleven years ago, it couldn't happen in this country. So it really is quite amazing that we have moved in that direction."

In his presentation, Hormel will review the social history of the United States since 1945 to explain how LGBT Americans progressed from exclusion to inclusion.

He said he would most likely speak from his own experiences "to underscore how important it has been for people to step forward, out of their comfort zone and take public positions [on issues] for the difference it can make."

Hormel summed up the necessity of LGBT activism in two words: "Come out," saying that he believes there are still serious problems facing LGBT civil rights, both nationwide and within the ranks of the LGBT community itself.

"Inside the community, we need to look at our own concerns - or lack of concern about diversity and acceptance - because I do believe there are still some serious problems regarding acceptance, and we need to examine those," he said. "And on a national scale, we do not have an employment non-discrimination protection, though 21 states have their own. And even though most of the Fortune 500 companies have their own statements, Congress has been too intimidated to pass anything. And I think that's shocking; it's just unacceptable."

Other Panels

Nancy C. Unger, Ph.D., an acclaimed LGBT historian and professor of history at Santa Clara University, will illuminate for her audience the "Long Journey to Stonewall: An Illustrated History" Tuesday, August 12 at 6 p.m.

Unger said she would be framing the Stonewall riots as part of a larger struggle in history by focusing on earlier and lesser-known same-sex stories - such as a few cases from the Colonial period.

"This is part of American history, and we all need to know about this history. I just get so impatient when gay and lesbian history in particular seems to get sort of shortchanged into the Stonewall riots," Unger told the B.A.R. "Even though the term 'homosexuality' is relatively new, same-sex desires have been around forever."

She also explained that the past is so empowering for the LGBT community because it shows how "we're part of something larger than ourselves." And it's through this realization - a purpose grounded in the past - that progress is possible, according to Unger.

"By knowing our history, I think that people are able to say what are all the challenges facing the LGBTQ community - rather than reinventing the wheel every time - by asking, how did [the LGBT movement] get so far so fast?" she said.

What makes the forum series even more unique is that the series was also envisioned by its organizers to educate the larger community rather than being "sort of preaching to the choir" on LGBT issues, according to Wes McGaughey, a program organizer and chair of the Commonwealth Club's LGBT member-led forum.

"There were several audiences visualized for this program," McGaughey said. "We discussed trying to expand programming so that it was of interest to several different communities, trying to have programs that are also of interest to the arts community, as well as the business community."

McGaughey attributed Carol Fleming, Ph.D., a straight ally who is a member of the Commonwealth Club's board of governors and organizer of the club's annual August series, with being the brain trust behind The LGBT Journey.

"She was rather inspired by the Supreme Court decisions and other barriers broken down this year, and she really wanted to do something that was positive in terms of LGBT rights and human rights," he said, referring to the June 2013 court rulings that threw out a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act and restored marriage equality in California.

Other speakers for the club's special August series include gender specialist Robyn L. Stukalin, who will examine how trauma and discrimination affects the lives of trans and gender non-conforming people on August 5; UC Davis psychology professor Gregory M. Herek, Ph.D., who will look beyond the usual conceptions of homophobia to better understand discrimination and prejudice against sexual minorities on August 18; and members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who will discuss their roles as agents of change for social justice and performance artists on August 27.

A panel on LGBT retirement living will take place August 6, while on August 7 a panel of HIV/AIDS experts will explore the "Quest for an HIV/AIDS Vaccine."

Gay NBA player Jason Collins will headline an August 11 forum at the Castro Theater.

Cecilia Chung, a transgender woman who is a member of the San Francisco Health Commission, will discuss "Closing the Gap: Crucial Transgender Issues Today" on August 12.

Jonathon Moscone, the gay son of slain San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, will headline a discussion entitled "Shakespeare LGBT: The Bard and Gay and Transgender Roles" on August 14.

Looking at the business world, Steve Pinetti Sr., vice president of inspiration and creativity for Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, will talk about LGBT marketing successes on August 15.

There will be two sessions on August 25. First, Bill Issel, professor of history emeritus at San Francisco State University, will look at Catholic power in the context of the LGBT struggle for freedom in San Francisco. A concurrent session on marriage equality with a look at what LGBT families are facing will also be held.

On the entertainment side, lesbian comedian Marga Gomez will present a lunchtime discussion on August 27, while B.A.R. society columnist Donna Sachet and KRON film critic Jan Wahl will present a lunchtime look at "Hollywood and the LGBT Journey" on August 29.

For more programming and ticket information for The LGBT Journey series, visit the Commonwealth Club online at With the exception of the Jason Collins program, the events take place at the Commonwealth Club's offices, 595 Market Street in San Francisco.

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