Tag Archives: straight

Task force celebrating Bisexual Awareness Week

The National LGBTQ Task Force is marking Bisexual Awareness Week 2015 by urging people to learn more about the realities of bisexual people’s lives.

“Much more public education is still needed as misconceptions and stereotypes about bisexual people have serious consequences. For instance, research shows that compared to heterosexual women and gay men, bisexual women experience higher rates of sexual assault, smoking, and suicide,”  said Stacey Long Simmons, director of public policy and government affairs for the National LGBTQ Task Force.

She continued, “Bisexual people are some of the most maligned and misunderstood members of our LGBTQ community. From assuming that we ‘don’t exist’ — even though statistically we comprise the largest group in our community — to the hyper-sexualizing of bisexual people; from saying we are ‘confused’ to suggesting that we can be ‘turned’ gay or lesbian or straight. This week we urge everyone in the LGBTQ community and the general public to educate themselves more about the issues affecting bisexual people. We exist in abundance and we deserve more attention to the reality of our lives.”

Logo TV: Gay, straight and a comedic look at pop culture

The Logo TV network wants to explore how a gay and straight man look at pop culture differently.

That’s the basis for “The Straight Out Report,” a new weekly program starting next month that aspires to be the cable network’s own version of “The Daily Show” or “Talk Soup.”

It premieres Nov. 7 at 10 p.m. Eastern. Comic Stephen Guarino, who appeared on the ABC show “Happy Endings,” will provide the gay perspective while his “straight” man is Mike E. Winfield.

The show will primarily be a comedic look at pop culture, although some more serious news topics will seep in, said Pam Post, vice president of programming for the gay- and lesbian-oriented network. Some planned segments include “Unintentional Gay Moment,” mining film clips, and “Feud for Thought,” detailing Twitter fights.

“We realized we hadn’t seen this before – a gay man and a straight man sitting at a desk, talking over the headlines of the day in a comedic way, and this really appealed to us,” Post said.

A second contrast — Winfield is black and Guarino white — wasn’t planned but is welcome, she said.

Already the two men have found how they both look at Men’s Health magazine for different reasons. Certainly the role of the Kardashians in popular culture will be explored on the show because, how could it not?

“I realized that I certainly have an opinion on how they are invading my life regardless of whether I am seeking them out,” Guarino said. “It’s interesting how many times the word `Kardashian’ comes before you in a day. I’ve been a victim of the pop culture whether I like it or not.”

The series seemed like an intriguing idea to Winfield when he first heard it.

“You play a role,” he said. “But we’re people first. We just happen to be straight and gay, we just happen to be black and white. For myself, I just come in with comedy.”

Logo is in some 52 million homes, or half of the country’s homes with television.

In San Diego, a U.S. House race has made-for-TV drama

A late-night break-in, a stolen campaign playbook that ended up in the hands of the opponent and sexual harassment accusations made by a fired staffer against one of the candidates.

It sounds like a soap opera, but it’s a real-life race for a House seat in California that’s one of the tightest in the country, and perhaps, the most dramatic. No criminal charges have been filed.

The competitors in the congressional race are first-term Democratic Rep. Scott Peters and Republican challenger Carl DeMaio. Outside groups have spent about $4.7 million in the race so far. At stake: a San Diego-area district divided about evenly between Republicans, Democrats and independents.

DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego City Council, has emerged as a national figure in part because he is a rarity: an openly gay, Republican congressional candidate. He’s proven himself a strong communicator and fundraiser, but he also is a candidate often surrounded by controversy.

The commotion began early in the election season when DeMaio’s campaign reported, just before California’s June primary, that its headquarters had been ransacked. Computer screens had been smashed, phone cords cut and water poured onto laptops and printers, the campaign reported. Police told local media in late August that former staffers were being questioned about the break-in.

More recently, one of those staffers alleged that DeMaio groped and sexually harassed him. Like DeMaio, the accuser is gay.

The San Diego District Attorney’s Office issued a statement Monday saying neither case had sufficient evidence to file charges.

Two weeks from Election Day, the question is whether the drama surrounding DeMaio will hurt his campaign. San Diego is still trying to recover from the political turmoil caused by the multiple allegations of sexual harassment that led to the resignation of former Democratic mayor Bob Filner.

Several voters interviewed at a coffee shop in San Diego’s La Jolla area, the upscale coastal neighborhood where Peters lives, said the allegations won’t influence their votes, barring new developments.

“No one is squeaky clean. As long as you do your job, it’s none of my business,” said Erich Garcia, a 27-year-old software salesman who recently switched from Democrat to independent.

Jack Clancy, a 73-year-old retired property manager, has been undecided but is leaning toward Peters because he feels a stronger personal connection. The Republican says the allegations surrounding DeMaio haven’t influenced him and that the district attorney’s decision not to seek criminal charges only reaffirmed his conviction that the drama surrounding the GOP candidate is irrelevant.

“It’s too bad all this dirt is coming out,” Clancy said as he watched a neighbor’s dog and waited for his coffee.

DeMaio moved to San Diego about a decade ago from Washington, D.C., when San Diego was mired in a deep fiscal crisis. He quickly gained a following by criticizing pensions for city workers – but the approach drew the ire of municipal labor unions in the nation’s eighth-largest city. As a one-term Republican city councilman, DeMaio lost by only five percentage points in the 2012 mayoral election in a city that voted overwhelmingly for Obama.

DeMaio still won a loyal following. But he also has alienated people, including some social conservatives, leaders of the gay community and his own employees. Jerry Sanders, a popular former Republican mayor who now leads the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, joked in 2012 that DeMaio would probably take credit for the weeds that the then-mayor pulled from his lawn, reflecting a common criticism that DeMaio tends to upstage others even if they deserve the credit.

Despite the recent flare-ups, DeMaio’s supporters are sticking by him. The campaign arm for House Republicans unveiled a new television advertisement it was launching Tuesday portraying him as a reformer and Peters as a big government spender. House Speaker John Boehner attended a fundraiser on his behalf earlier this month.

At a press conference Tuesday, DeMaio sought to move beyond the allegations and focus attention on issues such as the economy and the nation’s response to Ebola.

Peters’ campaign has tried to stay above the fray.

DeMaio declined to shake Peters’ hand at the beginning of an appearance together, confronting his opponent about whether a campaign strategy book taken during the burglary at his campaign headquarters had been delivered to the Peters camp.

“In early June, information was forwarded to our campaign, which we immediately turned over to police,” Peters said in response.

There has been no indication that Peters’ campaign was in any way connected to the break-in.

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Red Star offers craft cocktails in intimate setting

Red Star Cocktail Club faces an unusual conundrum. In order to be successful, the bar must draw clients. But drawing too large a crowd could distract from the desired ambiance of an exclusive and intimate craft-cocktail lounge.

Bar managers Lance Lanigan and Drew Cyr say they’re off to a good start in achieving the right balance. The classy bar’s historic speakeasy atmosphere, high-end service and complex seasonal concoctions have generated great word-of-mouth. Clientele has grown steadily since the bar opened in November 2013, they say, but it has not become overwhelming.

Red Star has the backing of its downstairs neighbor Trocadero, where Cyr serves as manager while Lanigan helms the upstairs bar. Much like the other restaurants owned by the Lowlands Group, including Cafe Centraal, Cafe Benelux and the two Cafe Hollanders, Red Star has European roots. Lanigan says co-owner Mike Eitel was inspired by upscale bars across the pond.

Red Star is neither a straight bar nor a gay bar — its orientation is refreshingly fluid. In a recent marketing campaign, the owner referred to it as a “straight-friendly” bar, a tongue-in-cheek but accurate descriptor. 

But perhaps the most original aspect of the bar is that it stands alone in the craft cocktail genre. 

The drink menu features a few dozen drinks, each with a long list of components that the bartenders emphasize should be considered for flavor, not for the type of alcohol they contain. The menu is Red Star’s third already, and it’s been around for less than two months. And it might be on its way out as early as the end of July, Cyr says.

“We went crazy with the spring menu,” he says, “so we want to revisit things we didn’t have time to on this menu.”

Looking at the menu, it’s hard to imagine what else the bar could add. The diverse current assortment includes everything from a modified Tom Collins with cucumber and sesame to the “Lili St. Cyr,” a drink named for a burlesque dancer in Cyr’s family tree. At first sip, the Lili St. Cyr tastes simply flavored with watermelon juice — and then the ginger and balsamic kick in.

Cyr and Lanigan want to ensure that their clientele never get bored. Creating cocktails is sort of a creative game for the duo. Every so often, they go out and purchase components they want to try playing with. They set them up along the bar and go to work.

“It’s like being in a little cocktail lab,” Cyr says.

Lanigan and Cyr are so committed to the details of their work that they create their own bitters rather than purchase them. “It’s truer to what craft is,” Cyr says.

Despite all the craftsmanship, there’s no attitude at Red Star. More than anything, Cyr says, the two hope to distinguish themselves from the average craft cocktail lounge by being deliberately casual about their work. “This scene tends to be pretentious,” Cyr says. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

To complement its speakeasy atmosphere, Red Star has been hosting a semi-regular burlesque night. The next installment, “Red, White & Burlesque,” takes place on July 17.

Cyr says they’re also considering offering one-on-one cocktail-making classes, where they’d teach people to make two or three classic drinks and then help them through a mixologically concocted variety of their very own. They’re also considering creating a literal cocktail club: Patrons could sign up for and receive a variety of perks.

Also potentially on the table is a regular game night — open to everything from classics like chess and Risk to more contemporary options like Mouse Trap or Cards Against Humanity.

“We want this to feel like people’s secondary home for drinking,” Cyr says.

President Obama’s remarks at the LBJ Library at the Civil Rights Summit

President Barack Obama addressed the Civil Rights Summit on April 10 at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. The following is a transcript of his remarks, delivered at about 12:15 p.m. CDT:

Thank you.  Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Please, please, have a seat.  Thank you. 

What a singular honor it is for me to be here today.  I want to thank, first and foremost, the Johnson family for giving us this opportunity and the graciousness with which Michelle and I have been received. 

We came down a little bit late because we were upstairs looking at some of the exhibits and some of the private offices that were used by President Johnson and Mrs. Johnson.  And Michelle was in particular interested to — of a recording in which Lady Bird is critiquing President Johnson’s performance.  (Laughter.)  And she said, come, come, you need to listen to this.  (Laughter.)  And she pressed the button and nodded her head.  Some things do not change — (laughter) — even 50 years later.

To all the members of Congress, the warriors for justice, the elected officials and community leaders who are here today  — I want to thank you.

Four days into his sudden presidency — and the night before he would address a joint session of the Congress in which he once served — Lyndon Johnson sat around a table with his closest advisors, preparing his remarks to a shattered and grieving nation.

He wanted to call on senators and representatives to pass a civil rights bill — the most sweeping since Reconstruction.  And most of his staff counseled him against it.  They said it was hopeless; that it would anger powerful Southern Democrats and committee chairmen; that it risked derailing the rest of his domestic agenda.  And one particularly bold aide said he did not believe a President should spend his time and power on lost causes, however worthy they might be.  To which, it is said, President Johnson replied, “Well, what the hell’s the presidency for?”  (Laughter and applause.)  What the hell’s the presidency for if not to fight for causes you believe in?

Today, as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, we honor the men and women who made it possible.  Some of them are here today.  We celebrate giants like John Lewis and Andrew Young and Julian Bond.  We recall the countless unheralded Americans, black and white, students and scholars, preachers and housekeepers — whose names are etched not on monuments, but in the hearts of their loved ones, and in the fabric of the country they helped to change. 

But we also gather here, deep in the heart of the state that shaped him, to recall one giant man’s remarkable efforts to make real the promise of our founding:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Those of us who have had the singular privilege to hold the office of the Presidency know well that progress in this country can be hard and it can be slow, frustrating and sometimes you’re stymied.  The office humbles you.  You’re reminded daily that in this great democracy, you are but a relay swimmer in the currents of history, bound by decisions made by those who came before, reliant on the efforts of those who will follow to fully vindicate your vision.

But the presidency also affords a unique opportunity to bend those currents — by shaping our laws and by shaping our debates; by working within the confines of the world as it is, but also by reimagining the world as it should be.

This was President Johnson’s genius.  As a master of politics and the legislative process, he grasped like few others the power of government to bring about change. 

LBJ was nothing if not a realist.  He was well aware that the law alone isn’t enough to change hearts and minds.  A full century after Lincoln’s time, he said, “Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.”

He understood laws couldn’t accomplish everything.  But he also knew that only the law could anchor change, and set hearts and minds on a different course.  And a lot of Americans needed the law’s most basic protections at that time.  As Dr. King said at the time, “It may be true that the law can’t make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”  (Applause.)

And passing laws was what LBJ knew how to do.  No one knew politics and no one loved legislating more than President Johnson.  He was charming when he needed to be, ruthless when required.  (Laughter.)  He could wear you down with logic and argument.  He could horse trade, and he could flatter.  “You come with me on this bill,” he would reportedly tell a key Republican leader from my home state during the fight for the Civil Rights Bill, “and 200 years from now, schoolchildren will know only two names:  Abraham Lincoln and Everett Dirksen!”  (Laughter.)  And he knew that senators would believe things like that.  (Laughter and applause.)

President Johnson liked power.  He liked the feel of it, the wielding of it.  But that hunger was harnessed and redeemed by a deeper understanding of the human condition; by a sympathy for the underdog, for the downtrodden, for the outcast.  And it was a sympathy rooted in his own experience.

As a young boy growing up in the Texas Hill Country, Johnson knew what being poor felt like.  “Poverty was so common,” he would later say, “we didn’t even know it had a name.”  (Laughter.)  The family home didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing.  Everybody worked hard, including the children.  President Johnson had known the metallic taste of hunger; the feel of a mother’s calloused hands, rubbed raw from washing and cleaning and holding a household together.  His cousin Ava remembered sweltering days spent on her hands and knees in the cotton fields, with Lyndon whispering beside her, “Boy, there’s got to be a better way to make a living than this.  There’s got to be a better way.”

It wasn’t until years later when he was teaching at a so-called Mexican school in a tiny town in Texas that he came to understand how much worse the persistent pain of poverty could be for other races in a Jim Crow South.  Oftentimes his students would show up to class hungry.  And when he’d visit their homes, he’d meet fathers who were paid slave wages by the farmers they worked for.  Those children were taught, he would later say, “that the end of life is in a beet row, a spinach field, or a cotton patch.” 

Deprivation and discrimination — these were not abstractions to Lyndon Baines Johnson.  He knew that poverty and injustice are as inseparable as opportunity and justice are joined.  So that was in him from an early age.

Now, like any of us, he was not a perfect man.  His experiences in rural Texas may have stretched his moral imagination, but he was ambitious, very ambitious, a young man in a hurry to plot his own escape from poverty and to chart his own political career.  And in the Jim Crow South, that meant not challenging convention.  During his first 20 years in Congress, he opposed every civil rights bill that came up for a vote, once calling the push for federal legislation “a farce and a sham.”  He was chosen as a vice presidential nominee in part because of his affinity with, and ability to deliver, that Southern white vote.  And at the beginning of the Kennedy administration, he shared with President Kennedy a caution towards racial controversy. 

But marchers kept marching.  Four little girls were killed in a church.  Bloody Sunday happened.  The winds of change blew.  And when the time came, when LBJ stood in the Oval Office — I picture him standing there, taking up the entire doorframe, looking out over the South Lawn in a quiet moment — and asked himself what the true purpose of his office was for, what was the endpoint of his ambitions, he would reach back in his own memory and he’d remember his own experience with want. 

And he knew that he had a unique capacity, as the most powerful white politician from the South, to not merely challenge the convention that had crushed the dreams of so many, but to ultimately dismantle for good the structures of legal segregation.  He’s the only guy who could do it — and he knew there would be a cost, famously saying the Democratic Party may “have lost the South for a generation.” 

That’s what his presidency was for.  That’s where he meets his moment.  And possessed with an iron will, possessed with those skills that he had honed so many years in Congress, pushed and supported by a movement of those willing to sacrifice everything for their own liberation, President Johnson fought for and argued and horse traded and bullied and persuaded until ultimately he signed the Civil Rights Act into law. 

And he didn’t stop there — even though his advisors again told him to wait, again told him let the dust settle, let the country absorb this momentous decision.  He shook them off.  “The meat in the coconut,” as President Johnson would put it, was the Voting Rights Act, so he fought for and passed that as well.  Immigration reform came shortly after.  And then, a Fair Housing Act.  And then, a health care law that opponents described as “socialized medicine” that would curtail America’s freedom, but ultimately freed millions of seniors from the fear that illness could rob them of dignity and security in their golden years, which we now know today as Medicare.  (Applause.)

What President Johnson understood was that equality required more than the absence of oppression.  It required the presence of economic opportunity.  He wouldn’t be as eloquent as Dr. King would be in describing that linkage, as Dr. King moved into mobilizing sanitation workers and a poor people’s movement, but he understood that connection because he had lived it.  A decent job, decent wages, health care — those, too, were civil rights worth fighting for.  An economy where hard work is rewarded and success is shared, that was his goal.  And he knew, as someone who had seen the New Deal transform the landscape of his Texas childhood, who had seen the difference electricity had made because of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the transformation concretely day in and day out in the life of his own family, he understood that government had a role to play in broadening prosperity to all those who would strive for it.

“We want to open the gates to opportunity,” President Johnson said, “But we are also going to give all our people, black and white, the help they need to walk through those gates.” 

Now, if some of this sounds familiar, it’s because today we remain locked in this same great debate about equality and opportunity, and the role of government in ensuring each.  As was true 50 years ago, there are those who dismiss the Great Society as a failed experiment and an encroachment on liberty; who argue that government has become the true source of all that ails us, and that poverty is due to the moral failings of those who suffer from it.  There are also those who argue, John, that nothing has changed; that racism is so embedded in our DNA that there is no use trying politics — the game is rigged. 

But such theories ignore history.  Yes, it’s true that, despite laws like the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act and Medicare, our society is still racked with division and poverty.  Yes, race still colors our political debates, and there have been government programs that have fallen short.  In a time when cynicism is too often passed off as wisdom, it’s perhaps easy to conclude that there are limits to change; that we are trapped by our own history; and politics is a fool’s errand, and we’d be better off if we roll back big chunks of LBJ’s legacy, or at least if we don’t put too much of our hope, invest too much of our hope in our government.

I reject such thinking.  (Applause.)  Not just because Medicare and Medicaid have lifted millions from suffering; not just because the poverty rate in this nation would be far worse without food stamps and Head Start and all the Great Society programs that survive to this day.  I reject such cynicism because I have lived out the promise of LBJ’s efforts.  Because Michelle has lived out the legacy of those efforts.  Because my daughters have lived out the legacy of those efforts.  Because I and millions of my generation were in a position to take the baton that he handed to us.  (Applause.)

Because of the Civil Rights movement, because of the laws President Johnson signed, new doors of opportunity and education swung open for everybody — not all at once, but they swung open.  Not just blacks and whites, but also women and Latinos; and Asians and Native Americans; and gay Americans and Americans with a disability.  They swung open for you, and they swung open for me.  And that’s why I’m standing here today — because of those efforts, because of that legacy.  (Applause.)

And that means we’ve got a debt to pay.  That means we can’t afford to be cynical.  Half a century later, the laws LBJ passed are now as fundamental to our conception of ourselves and our democracy as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  They are foundational; an essential piece of the American character. 

But we are here today because we know we cannot be complacent.  For history travels not only forwards; history can travel backwards, history can travel sideways.  And securing the gains this country has made requires the vigilance of its citizens.  Our rights, our freedoms — they are not given.  They must be won.  They must be nurtured through struggle and discipline, and persistence and faith. 

And one concern I have sometimes during these moments, the celebration of the signing of the Civil Rights Act, the March on Washington — from a distance, sometimes these commemorations seem inevitable, they seem easy.  All the pain and difficulty and struggle and doubt — all that is rubbed away.  And we look at ourselves and we say, oh, things are just too different now;  we couldn’t possibly do what was done then — these giants, what they accomplished.  And yet, they were men and women, too.  It wasn’t easy then.  It wasn’t certain then. 

Still, the story of America is a story of progress.  However slow, however incomplete, however harshly challenged at each point on our journey, however flawed our leaders, however many times we have to take a quarter of a loaf or half a loaf — the story of America is a story of progress.  And that’s true because of men like President Lyndon Baines Johnson.  (Applause.)

In so many ways, he embodied America, with all our gifts and all our flaws, in all our restlessness and all our big dreams.  This man — born into poverty, weaned in a world full of racial hatred — somehow found within himself the ability to connect his experience with the brown child in a small Texas town; the white child in Appalachia; the black child in Watts.  As powerful as he became in that Oval Office, he understood them.  He understood what it meant to be on the outside.  And he believed that their plight was his plight too; that his freedom ultimately was wrapped up in theirs; and that making their lives better was what the hell the presidency was for.  (Applause.)

And those children were on his mind when he strode to the podium that night in the House Chamber, when he called for the vote on the Civil Rights law.  “It never occurred to me,” he said, “in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students” that he had taught so many years ago, “and to help people like them all over this country.  But now I do have that chance.  And I’ll let you in on a secret — I mean to use it.  And I hope that you will use it with me.”  (Applause.)

That was LBJ’s greatness.  That’s why we remember him.  And if there is one thing that he and this year’s anniversary should teach us, if there’s one lesson I hope that Malia and Sasha and young people everywhere learn from this day, it’s that with enough effort, and enough empathy, and enough perseverance, and enough courage, people who love their country can change it.

In his final year, President Johnson stood on this stage, racked with pain, battered by the controversies of Vietnam, looking far older than his 64 years, and he delivered what would be his final public speech. 

“We have proved that great progress is possible,” he said.  “We know how much still remains to be done.  And if our efforts continue, and if our will is strong, and if our hearts are right, and if courage remains our constant companion, then, my fellow Americans, I am confident, we shall overcome.”  (Applause.)

We shall overcome.  We, the citizens of the United States.  Like Dr. King, like Abraham Lincoln, like countless citizens who have driven this country inexorably forward, President Johnson knew that ours in the end is a story of optimism, a story of achievement and constant striving that is unique upon this Earth.  He knew because he had lived that story.  He believed that together we can build an America that is more fair, more equal, and more free than the one we inherited.  He believed we make our own destiny.  And in part because of him, we must believe it as well.

Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.) 


Rate of steroid use higher among gay, bisexual boys

A new study from The Fenway Institute published online in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, shows that gay and bisexual boys use anabolic-androgenic steroids at rates much higher than their straight counterparts.

Fenway researchers Aaron Blashill and Steven Safren used a nationally-representative dataset of 17,250 U.S. adolescent boys ages 14-18 to assess if there were higher rates of steroid use among gay and bisexual boys compared to heterosexual boys. The investigators found that 21 percent of gay and bisexual boys compared with 4 percent of heterosexual boys used AAS at least once in their lives.

Gay and bisexual boys were also much more likely to be heavy users of AAS — 4 percent compared with 0.7 percent of heterosexual boys.

Anabolic-androgenic steroids — testosterone and synthetic derivatives — are substances typically used to increase strength, performance, and muscularity. Chronic use of AAS is associated with poor health outcomes, including cardiovascular, neurological, endocrine and psychiatric complications.

Previous research suggests that between 1 percent and 5.4 percent of adolescent boys have used AAS. However, no known studies have examined the prevalence of AAS use among gay and bisexual boys.

“This is the first known study that examined the prevalence of AAS use among gay and bisexual boys. We hypothesized that a disparity would exist. However, we were rather shocked at the magnitude, with gay and bisexual boys being over 5 times more likely to use AAS compared to heterosexual boys,” said Dr Blashill.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people experience bullying, verbal and physical harassment at rates much higher than their straight peers and Blashill noted that gay and bisexual boys may be at elevated risk of AAS use due to increased symptoms of depression, victimization, substance use, and poor body image because of this.

The data used for this study was excerpted from a research project being supported by the Center for Population Research in LGBT Health at The Fenway Institute.

No hugs allowed? Madison targets pro cuddlers, spooners, etc.

Madison is a place where just about anything goes, from street parties to naked bike rides. But city officials say a business is pushing even Madison’s boundaries by offering, of all things, hugs.

For $60, customers at the Snuggle House can spend an hour hugging, cuddling and spooning with professional snugglers.

Snugglers contend touching helps relieve stress. But Madison officials suspect the business is a front for prostitution and, if it’s not, fear snuggling could lead to sexual assault. Not buying the message that the business is all warm and fuzzy, police have talked openly about conducting a sting operation at the business, and city attorneys are drafting a new ordinance to regulate snuggling.

“There’s no way that (sexual assault) will not happen,” assistant city attorney Jennifer Zilavy said. “No offense to men, but I don’t know any man who wants to just snuggle.”

Snuggle House owner Matthew Hurtado hasn’t responded to multiple requests for an interview. His attorney, Tim Casper, said in an interview last month the business is legitimate and Hurtado has put precautions in place to protect clients and employees from each other.

“The concept is obviously a novel one and you can see where they (the city) might be a little skeptical,” he said. “Could something happen? Yeah, I suppose. But they’re taking every precaution.”

In recent days, it’s become unclear whether or not the house is still in business. A posting on a Facebook page claiming to be the Snuggle House’s site said it had closed, but the page owner wouldn’t identify themselves — or confirm if it was the home’s official site.

Madison’s concern seems to be deeper than in other cities where similar businesses have set up shop as cuddling has grown into a cottage industry over the past decade.

Police in Rochester, N.Y., said they’ve had no complaints about The Snuggery, which offers overnight cuddle sessions. Be The Love You Are in Boulder, Colo., offers cuddles with “Snuggle Stars.” Cuddle Therapy in San Francisco offers packages that “focus directly with your current needs around connection, intimacy and touch,” according to its website. Police in San Francisco and Boulder didn’t respond to The AP’s inquires about those businesses.

The nonprofit organization Cuddle Party has trained about 100 people across five continents to run group snuggle sessions, said Len Daley, a psychologist who serves as executive director at Cuddle Party headquarters in Montgomery, Ala. Betty Martin, a Seattle-based sex educator who facilities cuddle parties in that city, said she’s never had problems with government officials or police. Cuddle Party participants must keep their clothes on and go through a pre-session workshop on how to say “no,” she said.

“People think if there’s touch happening there must be sex happening. That’s not the case at all,” Martin said.

Madison might seem like an ideal spot for snuggling. Former Gov. Lee Dreyfus once described the Democratic stronghold as “30 square miles surrounded by reality.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation, which advocates for atheists, is based here. Every year UW-Madison students hold a blocks-long party to celebrate the end of the school year and biking enthusiasts pedal through the streets in various stages of undress each spring.

The Snuggle House sits above a bar about a block from the state Capitol. The only indication it’s there is a welcome mat that reads “Snuggle House.” The business’s website features photos of bedrooms with hardwood floors and videos of four snugglers _ three women and one man — talking about wanting to help people feel better.

Zilavy, the assistant city attorney, said her first thought when she heard about the Snuggle House was “OK, this is going to be a place of prostitution.” She said Hurtado initially had no business plan, no business insurance, no training protocols and no answers when she asked him what he would do if a snuggler was sexually assaulted.

The Snuggle House’s opening was delayed about a month as Hurtado — who filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and again in 2009, according to federal court records — worked to satisfy the city’s concerns. He said he put security cameras and a panic button in each bedroom, promised to perform background checks on clients and adopted rules prohibiting sex, paying for sex, nudity and drugs and alcohol during a session, Zilavy said.

She said no city ordinances address snuggling businesses. She’s drafting regulations that would allow health inspections as well as create licensing requirements. She also planned to take Hurtado up on his offer to watch security footage of a snuggle session and view client rosters. 

Police have been keeping an eye on the Snuggle House as well. Lt. David McCaw said police planned to send an officer into the business as a customer “and test the boundaries of what they said they’re doing.” He likened the operation to routine undercover compliance checks at a bar.

“It’s right at the edge, isn’t it?” McCaw said. “This business is about personal contact between two people for money. … People have different opinions of what they think Madison is and sometimes people are shocked by pushback.”

McConaughey unabashed in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

In 1986, Texan Ron Woodroof was diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live. When receiving the news, the rodeo-lover argued with the doctor, saying only gays got such a disease-and he was as straight as they came.

Matthew McConaughey, as Woodroof in the based-on-a-true-story “Dallas Buyers Club,” out this Friday, is magnificently cringe-worthy as this very scene plays out in the film.

“We had to go all the way unabashed with that,” said McConaughey in a recent interview to promote the film. “I would go as far as I could with the stuff that Ron thought, which was the stuff that made people go ‘You bigot, racist.'”

But the beauty of Woodroof’s story, and McConaughey’s ability to portray him, is in its arc: Following his diagnosis, Woodroof illegally imported drugs from other countries to counteract the effects of HIV and AIDS because of the lack of treatments in the U.S. approved by the Food and Drug Administration. He also became friends with transgender business partner Rayon, played by Jared Leto.

To immerse himself in this role, McConaughey read Woodroof’s diary and listened to hours of taped conversations between Woodroof and “Dallas Buyers Club” screenwriter Craig Borten.

“I saw a guy who was a dreamer and who was lonely, isolated, and who could never finish anything,” said McConaughey. “He was aimless and the irony is it took him having HIV to help him find a goal.”

To look the part of the gaunt Woodroof, McConaughey lost over 45 pounds. The first time the actor saw himself on-screen, he thought, `”Whoa, you look like a reptile, man.’ I didn’t feel like I was watching me.”

But sacrificing his good looks for the role “was not a huge concern,” said the 43-year-old. “There is something valuable to not being able to use certain things that may be a strength. You use other instruments.”

While losing the weight, the actor said his family’s reaction was subtle. “They saw me every day. But there was one day when Vidy goes `Why is your neck like a giraffe?'” he added with a chuckle, remembering his 3-year-old daughter’s reaction to his shrinking physique.

Wife Camilla Alves “helped me stay controlled,” added McConaughey of his minimalist diet, which included meals like a 5 oz. piece of fish and a cup of vegetables. “But I found some sort of sick pleasure in doing all the cooking. I also needed less sleep and my memory was incredibly sharp.”

But McConaughey was soon back to his 182-pound frame to play a finance fast-talker in Martin Scorsese’s upcoming “The Wolf of Wall Street” and a detective in the HBO series “True Detective,” premiering in January.

Grittier roles, including 2011’s “Killer Joe,” and 2012’s “The Paperboy” and “Mud,” demonstrate McConaughey’s versatility, and there’s talk “Dallas Buyers Club” could score him an Oscar nomination.

“I’m very excited about that possibility,” he said. “I feel that it is more than fair to judge art. If that happened that’s wonderful.”

Canadian writer Alice Munro wins Nobel for literature

The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2013 was awarded today (Oct. 10) to the Canadian author Alice Munro, called a “master of the contemporary short story.”

Munro grew up in Ontario, where her mother was a teacher and her father was a fox farmer. She studied journalism and English at the University of Western Ontario. She married in 1951 and settled with her husband in Victoria, British Columbia, where they opened a bookstore.

Munro began writing stories in her teens and published her first book-length work in 1968.

She is primarily known for her short stories, including some LGBT-themed pieces, and has published many collections over the years. Her works include “Who Do You Think You Are?” (1978), “The Moons of Jupiter” (1982), “Runaway” (2004), “The View from Castle Rock” (2006) and “Too Much Happiness” (2009). The collection “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” (2001) became the basis of the film “Away from Her” from 2006, directed by Sarah Polley. Her most recent collection is “Dear Life” (2012).

Munro, according to the biography from the Nobel prize committee, is “acclaimed for her finely tuned storytelling, which is characterized by clarity and psychological realism. Some critics consider her a Canadian Chekhov. Her stories are often set in small town environments, where the struggle for a socially acceptable existence often results in strained relationships and moral conflicts – problems that stem from generational differences and colliding life ambitions. Her texts often feature depictions of everyday but decisive events, epiphanies of a kind, that illuminate the surrounding story and let existential questions appear in a flash of lightning.”

Alice Munro currently resides in Clinton, near her childhood home in southwestern Ontario.

On the Web…

A link to an Alice Munro story in The New Yorker, 


Cory Booker: New Jersey opponent’s comment on sexuality is bigoted

Democratic Mayor Cory Booker has accused his U.S. Senate race rival of making bigoted comments when asked about a newspaper article in which Booker ambiguously addressed his sexuality.

Republican Steve Lonegan said on Steve Malzberg’s Newsmax talk show that it’s strange Booker won’t refute long-simmering rumors that he’s gay.

“It’s kind of weird. As a guy I personally like being a guy,” said Lonegan, who referenced a 2012 interview in which Booker said he “likes to go out at 3 o’clock in the morning for a manicure and pedicure.”

Lonegan’s comments came after a Washington Post profile in which Booker, a rising star in the Democratic Party, said he keeps his romantic life private because it’s “unfair to a young lady to put them in the spotlight” if they’re not ready for it. Booker then brought up gossip, which has been swirling since he first ran for mayor in 2002, that he’s gay.

“And people who think I’m gay, some part of me thinks that’s wonderful. Because I want to challenge people on their homophobia,” Booker told the newspaper for Monday’s profile. “I love seeing on Twitter when someone says I’m gay, and I say, `So what does it matter if I am? So be it. I hope you are not voting for me because you are making the presumption that I’m straight.'”

Lonegan, a former Bogota mayor, said he didn’t read the profile and doesn’t know if Booker is straight or gay.

“Maybe that helps to get him the gay vote, by acting ambiguous,” Lonegan said.

Booker’s team shot back on Aug. 28, saying Lonegan’s comments were narrow-minded.

“Mr. Lonegan’s comments are disappointing, bigoted and far outside the mainstream, implying that a man is not a man if he’s gay,” Booker’s campaign said in a statement.

Lonegan was unavailable for comment Wednesday “as he continues to focus on the issues that are most affecting the people of New Jersey,” a spokesman said.

Booker, who won the Democratic primary this month with the support of celebrities including Oprah Winfrey and Eva Longoria, is an ardent supporter of gay rights and same-sex marriage. He was the keynote speaker at the Human Rights Campaign’s national dinner last year, when he compared the fight for same-sex marriage to the struggle for civil rights. Under his leadership last year, the Democratic Party’s platform committee for the first time included support for same-sex marriage.

Booker has sharply disagreed with Republican Gov. Chris Christie over the issue. Christie opposes same-sex marriage and wanted to put the issue up for referendum in the state, where civil unions are legal. It didn’t make it to the ballot.

Booker penned a column in his college newspaper, the Stanford Daily, about overcoming the “disgust and latent hostility” he once felt toward gays and lesbians.

“I still remember how my brow would often unconsciously furrow when I was with gays as thoughts would flash in my mind, `What sinners I am amongst’ or `How unnatural these people are,'” Booker wrote.

Those views changed after Booker met a gay counselor at a peer counseling group during his freshman year.