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Emerging from shadows, pot industry tries to build brands

Snoop Dogg has his own line of marijuana. So does Willie Nelson. Melissa Etheridge has a marijuana-infused wine.

As the fast-growing marijuana industry emerges from the black market and starts looking like a mainstream industry, there’s a scramble to brand and trademark pot products.

The celebrity endorsements are just the latest attempt to add cachet to a line of weed. Snoop Dogg calls his eight strains of weed “DANK FROM THE DOGGFATHER HIMSELF.” Nelson’s yet-to-be-released line says the pot is “born of the awed memories of musicians who visited Willie’s bus after a show.”

The pot industry’s makeshift branding efforts, from celebrity names on boxes of weed to the many weed-themed T-shirts and stickers common in towns with a legal marijuana market, show the industry taking halting steps toward the mainstream.

Problem is, those weed brands aren’t much more substantial than the labels they’re printed on. Patents and trademarks are largely regulated by the federal government, which considers marijuana an illegal drug and therefore ineligible for any sort of legal protection. The result is a Wild West environment of marijuana entrepreneurs trying to stake claims and establish cross-state markets using a patchwork of state laws.

The result is that consumers have no way of knowing that celebrity-branded pot is any different than what they could get in a plastic baggie from a corner drug dealer. And people in the business are relying on a patchwork of state-level laws to try to stake claims and establish cross-state markets.

“You can’t go into federal court to get federal benefits if you’re a drug dealer,” said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor who tracks marijuana law.

That doesn’t mean that the pot business isn’t trying.

Hundreds of marijuana-related patents have likely been requested by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, according to those who work in the industry. Exact numbers aren’t available because pending patent information isn’t public.

So far federal authorities have either ignored or rejected marijuana patent and trademark requests, as in the 2010 case of a California weed-delivery service that applied to trademark its name “The Canny Bus.”

“They haven’t issued a single patent yet. But generally speaking there is broad agreement within the patent law community that they will,” said Eric Greenbaum, director of intellectual property for Ligand Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which is seeking a patent for a strain of marijuana to treat seizures that it has developed in Minnesota.

Companies like Ligand are betting that if marijuana becomes nationally legal, they’ll be first in line to claim legal ownership of whichever type of marijuana they’ve already developed.

Pot companies are also filing state-level trademarks, thereby avoiding the snag in a federal trademark application: the requirement that the mark is used in interstate commerce, which remains off-limits for pot companies. In Colorado, for example, there are nearly 700 trade names and 200 trademarks registered that include the word “marijuana” or a synonym, Kamin said.

Marijuana producers are also claiming everything they can that doesn’t involve actual weed. So a pot company could trademark its logo, or patent a process for packaging something, without mentioning that the “something” is marijuana.

The marijuana industry certainly has been on the receiving end of legal threats from other companies that do have trademark and patent protection. Cease-and-desist letters aren’t uncommon in the mailboxes of marijuana companies, whether it’s for making a candy that looks like a non-intoxicating brand, or for selling a type of pot that includes a trademarked word or phrase in its name.

The Girl Scouts of the U.S.A., for example, says it has sent dozens of cease-and-desist letters to those selling a popular strain of pot known as Girl Scout Cookies, or another called Thin Mints.

“The use of our trademarks in connection with drugs tarnishes the Girl Scouts name,” the organization says in the letter it says it has sent to pot sellers primarily in California, Colorado and Washington.

And last year, Hershey Co. sued two marijuana companies in Colorado and Washington for selling “Reefer’s” peanut butter cups and “Dabby Patty” candies, which resembled Hershey’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and York peppermint patties. Both pot companies agreed to stop selling the products and destroy any remaining inventory.

But the industry can’t use those same laws to protect its own brands.

“We’re in a new industry, where the benefits of federal protection aren’t open to us,” said John Lord, CEO of LivWell, a 10-store chain of Colorado marijuana shops that recently entered an agreement to sell Leafs By Snoop, the entertainer’s new line of marijuana.

Decades ago, Kamin said, pot smokers simply asked a black-market dealer for marijuana. These days, in those states that allow marijuana sales for either medical or recreational purposes, those smokers now may ask for a calming indica or energizing sativa strain of pot.

Which leads back to the Colorado pot shop selling Leafs By Snoop.

LivWell grows the Snoop pot alongside many other strains on its menu. But it charges up to $175 more an ounce for the Snoop brand, which is sold from behind a glittery in-store display, similar to what you’d see in a grocery store marketing a certain type of soda or soup.

“Brand differentiation is the normal progression of events,” said Lord, who wouldn’t share sales figures on the Leafs By Snoop pot but says its performance has been “outstanding.”

“Consumers will see more and more of this in the future.”  

The enduring impact of Madison’s legendary hippie culture

There’s a popular misconception that all of us in Madison are hippies, that we wear sandals, tie-dye and batik year-round; that we only put down our protest signs to pick up a joint; that we still watch Cheech and Chong, and are permanently stoned unless we’re at a Badger game, when we’re drunk and wearing red.

None of this is true. Well, maybe some of it.

OK, a lot of it. Rush Limbaugh, among others, has called us the “People’s Republic of Madison.” Bill O’Reilly has scoffed, “You expect those people to be communing with Satan up there in the Madison.”

The New York Times called Paul Soglin  the city’s “hippie mayor” in 2011.

Like the Amish, we’re preserving a vanishing way of life — in our case, it’s the 1960s counter-culture.

We’re still plenty groovy and far out, man, but verifiable evidence of hippies is becoming rarer and rarer. After all, much that was radical 50 years ago is now mainstream. But Madison still has pockets of paisley and patchouli that serve as testaments to its more radical past.

First, though, we have to define “hippie.” Soglin, barely 28 when he was first elected mayor in 1973, recalls, “No one in Madison ever referred to me as a hippie. In 1974, AP did a story about me and the headline writer sent a national feed referring to me as the hippie mayor.”

Soglin was very politically active, took part in protests and got caught up in riots. Police beat him with heavy batons. The proof is in the 1979 Oscar-nominated documentary The War at Home.

But calling Soglin a hippie, he says, makes no sense. “Hippies were disengaged from politics, which was the focus of my entire life.”

Others aren’t so quick to separate political activism from hippie-ism. Sharon Kilfoy is a self-described “hippie artist” who arrived at UW-Madison as a freshman in 1968.

“Hippies were counter-culture,” she says. It was only later that it “became more about sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. But I believe it was political at first, and then really became a cultural revolution.”

Whatever hippie culture was or is, we know it when we see it, and there are still examples all over Madison, including:

The Mifflin Street Block Party: The first block party was in 1969. It was an anti-war street protest/celebration that became a riot, with fires and tear gas. Soglin, then an alderman on the city council, was arrested — twice. Held the first weekend in May ever since, the party’s politics waned as its drunkenness increased. The city has been actively discouraging it since 2012.

“Mifflin should see some celebrants on Saturday, May 4, but if last year is any barometer, it will continue to be a much smaller gathering, consisting primarily of several house parties,” says Joel DeSpain, Madison Police Department spokesperson. “We had no problems last year and don’t anticipate any this May. That said, we will have additional officers on hand and be ready for any contingencies.”

Mifflin Street Co-op: The grocery, founded in 1969, served as an activist and counter-culture center. Facing competition and declining sales, its directors voted to close the store in late 2006. But its lavish, two-story mural remains. Norman Stockwell is operations coordinator for WORT-FM community radio — a hippie institution itself at 89.9 on the dial.

Back when he was a co-op employee, Stockwell and more than 60 others spent nearly a year planning and painting the mural, which features images of lush fertility and capitalist death. “The reason why this mural has lasted so well, and has no graffiti, is that it really is a coming together of the community in which it lives,” he says.

Efforts to restore its chipped surface occasionally arise. The 1987 mural was preceded by several others. The first included a dancing bomb, in solidarity with those who tried to destroy Sterling Hall.

Sterling Hall: On the night of Aug. 4, 1970, anti-war activists set off a massive 2,000-pound bomb contained in a stolen van parked next to this campus building. Their goal was to destroy the Army Math Research Center inside. The explosion killed one person and, adjusted for inflation, caused more than $11 million in damage. Faint blast marks on the building’s southern face bear testament to the tragedy.

The Daily Cardinal: Two of the Sterling Hall bombers worked at the more liberal and far older of the university’s two student papers. The Daily Cardinal, founded in 1892, has seen its pages thin over the years, but it still serves as training ground for fledgling journalists. Its alumni have won 20 Pulitzer Prizes. The paper is available free at many downtown and campus locations.

Otis Redding: In 1967, on his way to a concert in Madison, a plane carrying “The King of Soul” crashed into Lake Monona. Only one of the band members survived. On the shoreline near the Capitol there is a memorial to Redding, best known for the song “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.” 

Wild Hog in the Woods: There was more to music in the ’60s than rock ‘n’ roll. The decade also saw a blossoming of folk music. Wild Hog has kept the spirit of that time alive since 1978. Performances are held Friday evenings. More of a concert series than a venue, Wild Hog has had several homes over the years. These days it’s at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center. It began at the Green Lantern Eating Cooperative. 

Tie-dye, jeans and fringe: Hippies changed fashion. Men no longer wear hats and everyone wears jeans. Madison dresses primarily for comfort, including an awful lot of sandals. But we also dress symbolically, just as the hippies did.

“I haven’t seen as much tie-dye lately, but I’ve seen more batik and ethnic prints,” says Caitlin Wagner, a junior in the fashion design program at UW-Madison. And — bad news — “fringe is totally coming back,” Wagner says.

Thrift shop clothing, which was popular in the ’60s and ’70s, is still popular in Madison. Ironically, today’s thrift shops recycle vintage treasures from the era that glamorized previously worn garb.

But perhaps the most significant carry-over from hippie fashion is the application of social consciousness to wardrobe selection.

“What I see as hippie fashion that continues is the importance placed here on the context of what you’re consuming, how much you’re consuming and who we support by consuming certain products,” Wagner explains. 

Willy St. Co-op: In addition to thrift shops, the ’60s were a time of collectives, communes and, especially, cooperatives. This grocery co-op on Williamson Street — we locals call it “Willy Street” — was modestly founded in 1974. It’s since grown so much that a second location has opened in nearby Middleton. At one time, its selections were classified as “health food.” Now we just call it food.

“It’s amazing that so many of Willy Street Co-op’s core values and ideas that used to be considered counter-culture — natural food, organic food, bulk food, growing your own food, and sustainability — are now fairly mainstream,” says director of communications Brendon Smith.

Madison Community Co-ops: Madison has at least four independent housing co-ops. Twelve others are gathered into this co-op made up of co-ops, known as “MCC.” More than 200 people of all ages, but mostly students, live and eat in MCC houses with fanciful names such as Ambrosia, Hypatia and Syntropy. The largest, Lothlorien, suffered fire damage and is vacant and under repair. The best, because I lived there, is International Co-op House, where I learned to cook for 27 at a time.

“MCC was formed in 1968 by a group of seven or eight independent co-ops that already existed in Madison,” says Steve Vig, coordinating officer. Most houses welcome dinner guests, particularly prospective members, though there may be a small charge.

Tuschen: His first name was John, but locally he had single-name celebrity. Madison’s first poet laureate resisted the “hippie” title. Says his longtime partner, Suni Taylor, “I was the hippie, he was a throwback. Either Bukowski or Ginsberg — I can’t remember anymore — called him ‘the Baby Beat,’ and that really was the generation he fit into best.”

Beatnik or proto-hippie, Tuschen’s poetry was definitely a sign of counter-culture times. He was born in 1949 and passed in 2005, though his work lives on. He published “State Street Poetry Sheets,” collecting his work and that of others, and sold them in State Street stores. A fundraising effort is underway to reprint them.

Cecil’s Sandals: “In the ’60s, suddenly everyone was having custom sandals made at Cecil’s Sandals,” recalls Peter Berryman, half of the touring Lou and Peter Berryman folk/comedy act. Nicknamed “Jesus Boots,” the footwear was actually carefully crafted by Cecil’s son Ron Burke, just off State Street.

“Those are bygone years,” says Burke. “That was the era of the sandal craze. Everybody was a hippie. That was the start of the long hair and crazy dresses and things like that.”

Burke no longer makes sandals — all the getting up and down is too hard on his knees — but he continues to repair shoes at Cecil’s West, on Madison’s Odana Road.

Willy Street: Still the funkiest of Madison streets, with odd shops, coffee and lots of art, Willy Street is becoming gentrified.

“I am the longest surviving hippie resident-artist of Willy Street and have been producing art with the people for many years,” says muralist Sharon Kilfoy. She recalls when her counter-culture peers packed the mixed business-residential street. “The rent was cheap. There was a lot of real freedom of expression here. And the other people living here were poor, just like we were.”

Kilfoy compares it to Greenwich Village. “The artists come into a poor area and it becomes chi-chi. It’s exactly what happened.”

The Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Fest: Held the first weekend in October each year, this protest and march from the campus Library Mall to the Capitol is “to educate and inform people considering medical marijuana legalization and hemp,” says Dennis Brennan, one of the organizers. This autumn will mark the event’s 45th anniversary.

“We’re a loose cooperative,” says Brennan, who calls himself “just one of the crew.” The last few years attendance has been around 2,500 but, before states started legalizing marijuana, as many as 10,000 showed up from across the Midwest.

“It used to be that we had to go out of our way to get politicians to speak,” Brennan says. “We’re having the opposite problem now. The world’s been changing, and that’s in a lot of things. This city is a great example of that in so many social aspects. Things that were shunned upon and that people fought for 30, 40 years ago, are now part of our society here.”

Sunshine Daydream: Madison’s oldest surviving head shop is surely The Pipefitter on State Street, founded in 1972. But it’s Sunshine Daydream, just down the street, that claims to be “Madison’s favorite hippie store.” It features tie-dyed clothing, Grateful Dead paraphernalia, body oils and incense and a huge selection of glass pipes that could conceivably be used to smoke tobacco. Manager Jamie Strunz says, “We also carry tickets for a lot of the fests and things like that. We try to keep the hippies happy.”

But surely all the real, bonafide hippies are now at least in their 60s?

“This is true,” he says. “But we still have a few hippies left.”

Gay bathhouses nationwide face uncertain future

Gay bathhouses that once remained in the shadows to stay in business are now seeking attention to keep their doors open.

Some are doing aggressive online advertising and community outreach. Others tout their upscale amenities like plush towels and marble baths. A bathhouse in Ohio has even added hotel rooms and a nightclub.

Gone are the days when bathhouses drew crowds just by offering a discreet place for gays to meet, share saunas and, often, have sex.

“The acceptance of gays has changed the whole world. It’s taken away the need to sneak into back-alley places,” said Dennis Holding, 75, who owns a Miami-based bathhouse.

In the heyday of bathhouses in the late 1970s, there were nearly 200 gay bathhouses in cities across the United States, but by 1990, the total had dropped to approximately 90, according to Damron, the publisher of an annual gay travel guide. In the last decade, bathhouses, including ones in San Diego, Syracuse, Seattle and San Antonio, have shut down and the total nationwide is less than 70. Most patrons are older.

Hollywood Spa – one of the largest bathhouses in Los Angeles, a city regarded as the country’s bathhouse capital – closed in April. Owner Peter D. Sykes said fewer customers and rising rent put an end to four decades in business.

“Bathhouses were like dirty bookstores and parks: a venue to meet people,” said Sykes, who still owns the smaller North Hollywood Spa. “Today, you can go to the supermarket.”

Bathhouses date to the Roman Empire. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, American bathhouses were built in many cities to maintain public hygiene among poor and immigrant communities. Chicago and Manhattan each had about 20 public bathhouses.

But the need for public places to wash up declined and by the 1950s and ’60s, bathhouses largely had become rendezvous spots for gays, prompting occasional raids because sodomy was still criminalized.

Privately run, gay-owned bathhouses proliferated in the 1970s, offering a haven for gay and bisexual men to meet. Clubs like New York City’s Continental bathhouse and Los Angeles’ 8709 Club saw a steady stream of patrons.

Each venue was operated like a speakeasy: a nondescript building often located in the urban fringe. In-house entertainment was common, from DJs to live performers. Bette Midler even launched her career from the stage of the Continental.

Amid the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, bathhouses were vilified for enabling promiscuity and helping spread the disease, and many either closed voluntarily or by legal pressure. Those that remained were stigmatized, and now many younger gays see them as anachronisms.

“The younger generation’s main fear is that it’s some dark, seedy place,” said T.J. Nibbio, the executive director of the North American Bathhouse Association. NABA formed two years ago for bathhouse owners to pool best practices for marketing and operations.

To attract younger patrons, some bathhouses offer steep discounts, cutting admission by as much as 60 percent. At the three-story Midtowne Spa in downtown Los Angeles, 18- to 20-year-olds get in for $5 any time. On Tuesdays, Los Angeles’ Melrose Spa lets those 18 to 25 in for free, a deal that brought 22-year-old Brett Sparks on a recent midweek visit.

“You’re either hooking up online or you are here, or you go to bars in West Hollywood, get drunk and hook up,” said Sparks, acknowledging that although the bathhouse crowd skews older, it’s not as risky as going home with a stranger. “Here it’s a safer environment – there’s condoms and other protection.”

The CEO of Ohio-based Flex Spas, Todd Saporito, has positioned his bathhouse chain as a pillar of the gay community. Saporito uses the chain’s Cleveland-based flagship spa, whose 50,000 square feet include luxury hotel rooms and a nightclub, to run the city’s annual pride parade and this year’s Gay Games, an international LGBT athletic competition.

Flex Spas also has sponsored the White Party, an annual electronic music festival in Palm Springs, and partnered with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, part of an effort to frame the bathhouse as an opportunity for preventing risky behavior.

Flex Spas has had mixed success over the past few years. Its location in Atlanta has seen “exponential” growth, but clubs in New Orleans and Columbus, Ohio, have closed, Saporito said.

Saporito said more progressive views on homosexuality aren’t evenly spread across the country, underscoring the need for modern bathhouses in some areas. Still, he takes nothing for granted, regardless of the location.

“Bathhouses at some level will go extinct if you don’t offer something more than a towel,” Saporito said.

Political divorce? Discord between Republican leaders, hard-right groups

Republican leaders and several hard-right groups are displaying the classic signs of a political divorce, including bitter name-calling and reprisals against one another.

The recent eagerness of House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to lash out at groups that have given them fits has unshackled others in the Republican ranks to publicly question the motivation of organizations such as the Senate Conservatives Fund, Heritage Action, Madison Project and Club for Growth.

Such organizations disparage Republicans they accuse of following the path of least resistance in Washington and vow to replace them in primaries with conservative purists.

“I think there’s a growing recognition around here that many of the outside groups do what they do solely to raise money, and there are some participants inside Congress who do the same,” said Sen. Bob Corker. He said that some of the newer senators have caught on to “the disinformation, getting people to call offices, send in small donations to a website.”

“I think people are getting tired of that. I tired of it before I got here,” said the Tennessee Republican.

Increasingly in public, Boehner and McConnell are challenging the outside groups’ credibility – and complaining that they are the ones tarnishing conservatism.

But it goes both ways.

In the recent dust-up over the budget deal, the outside groups suspect that Boehner has a hidden motive. They suggest he’s anxious to put economic fights in the rear-view mirror so he can tackle contentious immigration legislation early next year, before the first round of March primaries in Texas and Illinois.

The groups’ suspicions were heightened by the recent high-profile budget success of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who favors a way out of the shadows for an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. without legal papers, and in Boehner’s hire of a Senate staffer who worked on bipartisan immigration legislation for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

“It’s very easy to see that they want to clear a lane to pass amnesty,” said Daniel Horowitz, policy director for the Madison Project, who described the overall differences with Republican leaders as irreconcilable.

Michael Steel, spokesman for Boehner, scoffed at the link between the budget deal and immigration.

“The agreement has nothing to do with the need to fix our broken immigration system,” Steel said.

It wasn’t always this acrimonious.

Tea partyers and conservative activists helped the GOP claim the House majority in 2010 and seize state legislatures that redrew congressional boundaries to the GOP’s advantage. Those new lines enabled Republicans to withstand strong Democratic turnout in the 2012 presidential year and hold their House edge, a margin the GOP is expected to maintain or even increase in next year’s midterm elections.

The outcome was far different in Senate races. Outside conservative groups backed less-viable candidates who flamed out in general elections in Colorado, Nevada and Delaware in 2010 and in Indiana and Missouri in 2012. Establishment Republicans insist that cost them a Senate majority as well as some breathing room for 2016 when 24 Republican seats are up, compared with only 10 for Democrats.

Senate Republicans were upset in the fall when outside groups did little to help bona fide conservative Steve Lonegan in New Jersey’s special election contest against Cory Booker, who won the open seat after a somewhat desultory campaign.

House and Senate Republican leaders, for their part, were angry when the Senate Conservatives Fund, the Madison Project and Heritage Action pushed for the undoing of President Barack Obama’s health care law, an unrealistic goal with a Democratic president and Democratic-controlled Senate that led to the 16-day partial government shutdown this past fall.

To add insult, the Senate Conservatives Fund ran ads criticizing GOP incumbents for failing to champion defund “Obamacare” in states such as North Carolina, where Republican Sen. Richard Burr isn’t up for re-election but Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan is and remains vulnerable. Republicans said the strategy was misguided.

The hard-right groups have mobilized against a wide variety of legislative efforts, from once-easy, bipartisan transportation and disaster relief bills to the recent budget pact. Their efforts created agenda headaches for Boehner and McConnell, and the shutdown did apparent political damage to the GOP.

The campaign against health care and shutdown, however, was a financial boon to the Senate Conservatives Fund, the group founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who is now president of the Heritage Foundation. The Fund raised less than a million dollars in the first half of 2013, but it collected more than $4.7 million in the months leading up to the shutdown and during it, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Through the end of October, the organization had raised $6.5 million. Among its endorsed candidates is Matt Bevin, a businessman challenging McConnell in Kentucky’s GOP primary.

The Madison Project has collected $1.7 million this year, while the Club for Growth has raised $2.2 million.

The groups are determined to use their money and clout in next year’s elections in which seven of 12 Senate Republican incumbents face primary challengers. No Senate Democrat faces a primary foe.

“If Mitch McConnell and John Boehner think the grass roots are going to sit back and let them continue to work with Democrats to mortgage our nation’s future, they’re mistaken,” Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, said in a statement. “It’s time for Americans to rise up and begin replacing establishment Republicans with true conservatives in the 2014 primary elections. There’s no question anymore about where these leaders stand.”

With a shot at the Senate majority, McConnell is playing hardball. The GOP leader, who privately has said the groups need a punch in the nose and publicly has said they are “giving conservatism a bad name,” has backed up his words with action. The Senate Republican campaign organization, effectively an extension of the GOP Senate leadership, has made it clear it will not give any business to Jamestown Associates, an advertising firm that has worked for the Senate Conservatives Fund.

Horowitz insists that even if non-establishment candidates don’t prevail in the primaries, they’ve succeeded in forcing Republican incumbents to vote the conservative groups’ positions in the year leading up to the election.

“Boy oh boy, do they shift over to the right,” he said, citing Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah in 2012 and Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas this year. The Senate Conservatives Fund endorsed Roberts’ GOP primary rival, Dr. Milton Wolf, last week.

Despite it all, Senate Republicans say there is little political daylight separating members of the caucus.

“I don’t know many Republicans any more that are described as anything near moderate,” said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. “We’re a pretty conservative bunch. We just don’t get here without being pretty conservative.”

Rules, policies toning down gay Pride spark debates

Initiated as small, defiant, sexually daring protests, gay Pride parades have become mainstream spectacles patronized by corporate sponsors and straight politicians as they spread nationwide. For many gays, who prize the events’ edginess, the shift is unwelcome – as evidenced by bitter debate preceding the parade in Dallas on Sept. 15.

At issue was a warning from police and organizers that rules related to nudity and sexual behavior would be enforced more strictly than in past years. Police said anyone violating indecency laws in front of children could be charged with a felony.

The warnings outraged some local activists, whose reactions swiftly echoed through gay-oriented social media nationwide.

“To make the parade more `family friendly’ and to accommodate comfort for the increasing number of attending heterosexuals and corporate sponsorship, participants are being asked to cover up!” activist Daniel Scott Cates wrote on his Facebook page. “The `queer’ is effectively being erased from our Pride celebration.”

Another activist, Hardy Haderman, wrote an aggrieved column for the Dallas Voice, a weekly serving the gay community.

“The assimilationists insist we tone down and throw away all our joyous sexiness,” he wrote. “Why? To do that turns the Pride Parade into a We-Are-Ashamed parade, and I refuse to be part of that.”

Despite the controversy, the Dallas Voice reported that the parade was “business as usual,” with larger than normal turnout marking the event’s 30th anniversary. The only reported arrests were for intoxication, not for nudity or lewdness. Some marchers did dress in skimpy underwear, despite pre-parade speculation this would not be allowed.

The parade is organized by the Dallas Tavern Guild, an association of gay bars. Its executive director, Michael Doughman, said the change this year did not involve any new rules – but rather a warning that existing rules would be more strictly enforced.

These rules, he said, were drafted to conform with the city’s public nudity ordinance and the state’s anti-obscenity law, which bars the parade from featuring sexual paraphernalia and “real or simulated sex acts.”

“Most people abided by the rules – but we had some individuals who decided to push the envelope a little to see how far they could go,” Doughman said of recent parades. “So we asked our police security officer to bring it up as a reminder.”

“We aren’t trying to stifle anybody’s right to be gay or express themselves,” he added. “We are trying to create a friendly environment for everybody. We can be gay without being naked.”

Among gay activists beyond Dallas, the dispute elicited sharply divided opinions. Those agreeing with Doughman included John Aravosis, a prominent Washington-based blogger.

“I got involved in gay politics 20 years ago in order to win the right to serve in the military, have a job, and get married, among others,” he wrote. “It had nothing to do with public nudity… I’m open to a good explanation of how this links back to our civil rights, but I’ve not heard a good one yet.”

However, Michael Diviesti of Austin, Texas – leader of the state branch of the gay-rights group GetEQUAL – said Pride parades were in danger of losing their essential character.

“This is my celebration of myself,” he said. “Why should I have to tone that down because someone else might be looking? It’s like putting yourself back in a closet.”

Nationally, there’s no question that Pride parades have become more mainstream and family-friendly as more gays and lesbians raise children, and more heterosexuals turn out to watch. With the surge of corporate sponsorships, they’ve become a big business in some cities.

As a result, there’s disagreement within the gay community as to what sort of imagery the parades should present.

“It’s something we’ll continue to struggle with,” said Gary Van Horn of Pittsburgh, a co-president of InterPride, which represents organizers of pride events across the U.S. and abroad.

InterPride avoids taking sides in disputes over the character of a given parade, Van Horn said. “I don’t think there’s one-size-fits-all answer.”

Richard Pfeiffer, an organizer of Chicago’s annual Pride parade for 40 years, said rules on lewdness and nudity vary from city to city, dependent on local laws and attitudes.

“We have our rules in Chicago, and on the whole our entries follow them,” he said. “If people step over those guidelines, we will just say, `For next year, don’t do that.’ We don’t pull people out of the parade on the spot.”

One group with a keen interest in the debate is Family Equality, which represents families in which the parents are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

The group’s executive director, Gabriel Blau, says he and his husband marched earlier this year in New York City’s Pride parade with their 5-year-old son – even though there were parts of the parade they considered too risque for him to see.

Blau described the debate in Dallas and other cities as “a healthy conversation” and said Family Equality encouraged parade organizers to keep children in mind as they orchestrate their events.

“We are not a family-values organization that’s going to say what children should and shouldn’t see,” he said. “But we’ve been working with pride celebrations to create family-friendly spaces, so that the whole community can participate.”

These areas might include a “bouncy castle” or kid-oriented entertainers, Blau said.

A gay father, Chase Lindberger, who recently married in Minnesota, said he and his husband had no qualms about taking their two young children to the Twin Cities Pride Parade this summer.

“It’s an important event for the community that my children are a part of,” Lindberger said. “They see people being very dramatic and colorful, and I think that’s wonderful.”

North Dakota’s 1st openly gay lawmaker wants to work for all

A Fargo representative says he’s proud to be North Dakota’s first openly gay lawmaker but that his most important cause is helping to craft good legislation for all people.

Democratic Rep. Joshua Boschee is among a freshman class of 17 House members and eight Senators who began work Jan. 8 on the 2013 session’s opening day. Although Boschee adds rare diversity to the assembly of North Dakota politicians, he believes he was elected because of his platform.

“I’m proud, I guess, to wear that banner, but for the most part I was elected by my people to legislate, to be a lawmaker, not because I was gay or because I wasn’t gay, but because they thought I was the best candidate,” Boschee said from his seat in the House chambers.

Boschee said his sexual orientation was a non-issue in the race.

“That was nice,” he said. “That’s something I was prepared for, knowing that could be a wedge issue.”

Democrat Mac Schneider, the Senate minority leader, said Boschee’s election should show lawmakers that citizens no longer tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. A law that would have protected the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender population from housing discrimination under the state’s human rights act passed the senate in 2009, but failed in the House.

More people are ready to accept that idea, Schneider said, and Boschee’s election should be people’s exhibit No. 1.

“I think it means a lot that Josh was judged by his constituents based on his ideas, based on his policies and his work ethic, rather than his sexual orientation,” Schneider said. “I think most people even in North Dakota could (not) care less about how people spend their private moments. What they want is someone who is thoughtful, compassionate and effective at what they do here in Bismarck.”

Boschee, 30, a student leadership adviser at Minnesota State University Moorhead, used to write a column for the High Plains Reader, an alternative weekly newspaper in Fargo. His piece, he said, was “wittingly called” the Gay Agenda.

He said his agenda in Bismarck will include supporting bills on day care regulations, tax relief, nutrition in schools and another run at the bill that would ban discrimination in housing, employment and credit.

Boschee’s committee assignments are agriculture, industry, and business and labor. There will be plenty of spending decisions to be made in those and other categories. Thanks primarily to oil production and commodities, the state’s surplus is climbing toward the $2 billion mark.

“I think it’s a balance between looking at our needs, not only today, but 100 years from now,” Boschee said. “We know we’re always going to have to educate our population, we know we’re going to have roads to take care of. But at the same time, how do we give money back to local communities?”

Schneider and Rep. Jerry Kelsh, a fellow Democrat, believe that Boschee will be a leader in both the party and the Legislature.

“I’ve asked him questions about how the attitudes have changed so quickly,” Kelsh said. “Five or six years ago opposing gay marriage was on the ballot and there was a tremendous ‘yes’ vote on it. Now I’m not even sure if it would pass.”

Boschee said his election to the House isn’t the only sign of change, pointing out several new lawmakers in the room who are younger than 40 years old, and several rookies who are women.

“There’s a shift in age and gender. I think that’s a fact that voters are looking at, that we need to change the way we’re doing business,” Boschee said. “Once again, stop maintaining and holding on to all these resources and look at how can we been innovative and entrepreneurial with our opportunities.”