FORWARD: October, 2013: Check back often, as this personal history of American LGBT politics & society since 1965 comes alive on line. There are photos galore which will be added as time permits. I've only just begun to archive some of the thousands of documents and photos from my past 1/4 century in Hawai`i on my Facebook page HERE. The national resurgence of the Conservative Christian Right and how this came about because of the "Gay Marriage" issue which began in Hawai`i during Scott's tenure with Governor Ben Cayetano is also detailed within. These opening paragraphs are a very quick update on the Marriage Equality issue in Hawai`i and I'll write much more about the 23-year national saga when time permits. The early history of the issue follows at the top of the adjacent column.
Suffice to say here, Hawai`i became the 15th state in the nation to pass a Marriage Equality law during a Special Session of the Hawai`i State Legislature which convened on Monday, October 28, 2013. The law went into effect on December 2, 2013 and the first marriage was performed at 12:02 am the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu with the Governor attending. It was a nasty political fight and after no little struggle with some of our so-called "friends," I was finally retained to assist by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai`i.
Unfortunately, even after our victory for Marriage Equality in Hawai`i, our small LGBT community remains factionalized and anyone venturing into this arena might want to have at least a cursury understanding of the fragile dynamics. What happened in the past that led to the internal turf battles and strained political relationships? How do we begin to rectify the situation and again do battle with the Radical RIght as the 2014 elections loom? I don't pretend to have all of the answers, but I sincerely believe the solutions might be revealed once the current generation of LGBT advocates begins to understand more about the political history of the modern LGBT movement in Hawai`i. I begin the following narrative with my beginnings and the Hawai`i LGBT political history from my perspective follows. Not all will agree with my perspective and that's fine. I've done my level best to research and document the many significent events on this very bumpy road and I was often "in the room" as the Marriage Equality issue began and finally played out in Hawai`i. - Scott Foster
Now 72 and openly Gay since the mid-1960s, Scott Foster became politically active in his home state of Oklahoma after New York's Stonewall Police Riot in June of 1969. Scott remembers, "Even in conservative Oklahoma, Stonewall was a call to arms. The fact that New York City LGBTs would stand up and defend themselves against unwarranted police harassment gave us all the courage to begin to change things in our own cities and towns."
Because of his long-time friend and attorney, the late William B. Rogers, esq., Scott wrote one of the first checks to help found what is now known as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Rogers was one of the first board members and their mutual friend and associate, Dr. Bruce Voeller became the first Executive Director. For the first time in history, a visible and powerful national Gay political organization began to speak for us with a united voice.
And then came the 1976 Dade County Initiative, led by pop singer and Florida orange juice spokesperson, Anita Bryant which repealed Florida's landmark Gay-rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Bryant's offensive, inflamatory rhetoric rallied many thousands to our cause.
The explosive issue came to a decisive conclusion in 1978 with the ultimate defeat of the Brigg's Inititive (Proposition 6) in California -- where Harvey Milk had just been elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisers.
Scott notes, "These were seminal events in LGBT history and they resonated across the country with amazing results. We all began raising money to support the Florida and California battles. It was the first time in history that Gays could expect financial and on-site support from their sisters and brothers in other states. People came out of their closets in droves and the seachange set the mechanisms in place that would later be far more important that anyone might have ever imagined."
When the AIDS pandemic struck in 1981, Scott helped organize Oklahoma City's first Gay political organization and assisted in bringing in national experts to educate his community about the mysterious new killer disease -- then known as Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID). In 1984, Scott moved to Los Angeles. With the government still ignoring the carnage, Scott continued to raise money to help fund Bruce Voeller's Mariposa Foundation. which was co-founded by Karen DeCrow (former president of the National Organization of Women), and Aryeh Neier (former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union). Voeller was a biologist and AIDS researcher who pioneered the use of nonoxynol-9 as a spermacide and topical virus-transmission preventative. Voeller's later research centered on the reliability of various brands of condoms in preventing the spread of diseases, and on viral leakage studies for the (then) recently approved "female" condom.
Moving to Honolulu in 1986 with the AIDS pandemic raging, Foster was stunned to find no politically-organized Gay community. He remembers, "I looked for a Gay newspaper just to see what the community in Hawai'i was like and there wasn't one; no Gay newspaper or any sign of a politically organized community. There was the Life Foundation - and they were doing great work for AIDS - but in those days they were somewhat closeted. The community simply had no credible, visible role models speaking out."
Joining the Board of Honolulu's small Gay Community Center, (now defunct) Scott became the Editor of The Gay Community News, seeing the once-small newsletter literally explode in distribution as a newspaper from 400 to 25,000 in a mere 18 months. Sadly, by creating such a powerful publication, an internal political fight ensued and the Gay Community Center Board (by now -- thanks to Scott's literally forcing the issue -- the Gay AND Lesbian Community Center) voted to give the money-making publication away to a rogue member and the paper folded some months later.
Scott left the organization and began to write political issues for Island Lifestyle Magazine (ILS) and he continued his political writing there for four more years. At ILS, Scott introduced his hilarious, always politically-correct alter ego, Laverne' DaGooche. Scott notes, "Drag as we know it today, had begun as a form of political protest; a sure-fire way to get public and media attention. We had been doing it successfully for years." Scott also notes, "The notion that drag queens want to be women is ludicrous. I would be a hideous woman." And so when Scott later became involved in the ultimately-successful fight to reform car insurance in Hawai`i, Laverne' Dagooch wound up on the front-page in a photo holding a sign protesting in front of the State Capitol - No Fault is A Drag.
Scott also organized the once politically-powerful Hawai`i Alliance For Equal Rights, the Honolulu Lesbian & Gay Pride Week Association, and he co-founded the Names Project Hawai`i - one of the first state chapters of the organization that manages The AIDS Memorial Quilt. Working with the Names Project founder, Cleve Jones and the San Francisco Names Project team, in Honolulu Scott joined Honolulu residents Dr. Sumner Lacroix, Rita Andrade and Carmen Salazar to organize the very-first-public showing of the entire quilt ever presented by a state chapter. Over 25,000 viewed the Quilt in Honolulu's Blaisdell Hall. With over a dozen Hawai`i volunteers on hand, Scott, Rita and Carmen later worked on three Washington DC Quilt displays on the National Mall. Photos of those events are HERE
In 1988, the World Health Organization established World AIDS Day to provide "governments, national AIDS programs, faith organizations, community organizations, and individuals with an opportunity to raise awareness and focus attention on the global AIDS epidemic." Scott organized the first events in Hawai`i and for the next five years was the volunteer State Coordinator -- producing A Day Without Art, and seeing the lights on the State Capitol (Mahalo to Nancy Kern!) and Aloha Tower turned off to call attention to World AIDS Day for A Night Without Light .
In 1991, Scott played a key role in the passage of legislation extending state-wide employment protection to Gays & Lesbians, and his political acumen was again put to the test during his involvement in the passing of Hawaii's highly-praised needle exchange legislation -- the first such HIV-prevention program in the US. By then considered by many to be one of the founders of the modern Hawai`i Gay rights movement, Scott was profiled in the explosive Gay Power In Paradise cover article for the April, 1992 issue of Honolulu Magazine.
In 1993, Scott lost his business partner and friend John Winkler to AIDS. Together they had owned and operated the LA-based concert and sound engineering firm of John Winkler & Associates whose clients had included Barbara Streisand, Johnny Mathis, Barry Manilow, and Hollywood's Universal Amphitheater and the legendary Studio One disco. Scott said, "When John died, I was literally out of business. I long ago quit counting the friends and business associates I have lost to this disease. These were the people I was expecting to grow old with. I call that period, The Great Dying."
Scott's most haunting personal loss to AIDS was his friend, Tommy Aguilar. One of the original London cast stars of A Chorus Line, Aguilar was perhaps Honolulu's best-known show business personality. Tommy had once said, "When I first heard that there was some new Queen in Honolulu organizing everything in sight to raise money for AIDS, I tracked Scott down immediately. He is one of the few professional press agents with ethics and scruples I have ever known. He is simply the very best in the business." Together Tommy and Scott would raise over $100,000 for AIDS research during the two years before Aguilar's tragic death.
After basketball legend, "Magic" Johnson announced he was HIV+, Scott felt his personal efforts in bringing the threat of AIDS into the national and local public consciousness was done. He later wrote, "I had simply had enough; was burned out. I had devoted the most productive decade of my life to AIDS awareness and I needed to somehow move on and reclaim my life."
In 1993 Scott was elected Assistant Secretary of the Democratic Party of Hawai`i, the first openly-Gay person to achieve such a high Party position. Soon joining Scott was his friend, the late Martin Rice who was elected County Chair of Kauai. With a seat on the Party's powerful State Central Committee Executive Board, Scott established the very-effective Democratic Party Communications Committee which was at least partially responsible for protecting Hawaii's Democrats from the 1994 "Gingrich Republican Revolution."
In 1990, Foster broke with many of the very Gay organizations in Hawai'i he had helped to create when he strongly advised a newly-active political segment of the Hawai`i LGBT community against using the word "marriage." He later wrote, "While we certainly agreed that all people in committed relationships should enjoy the same economic and legal rights that marriage provides and philosophically supported the right to marry, my political ohana felt that 'marriage' was just not politically possible to achieve in 1994 and the very use of the word would no-doubt coalesce and empower the right-wing Christian fundamentalists. We were certain that this misguided effort would cost us very dearly were we to force our friends at the legislature to take a public stand on the issue. We believed that we should get our state bundle of rights in place by statute and let people 'get married' if they wanted -- or not. Either way, it would not affect the most important federal rights such as survivorship re Social Security, retirement pensions, the military, etc. We still had a long way to go in the states before we could go after the federal benefits and much of our hard-won groundwork was being put at risk because of the use of the word 'marriage'".
"Besides that fact, a deal had been struck the previous year with House and Senate Leadership in order to get the State's Employment Protection legislation passed in the first place. We had promised to not bring our next Gay-rights action -- protection in housing -- forward the following session because it was an election year. The Gay Marriage proponents virtually ignored all of this." Foster tried in vain to sway the community to instead wait a year and then seek Domestic Partnership legislation but he was not able to convince the political novices.
By then, Scott had been retained as the Director of Communications for the underdog candidate for Governor, the Lt. Governor Ben Cayetano. Scott was pleased to learn first-hand of Cayetano's supportive position on Domestic Partnerships. Early in the campaign (and to the great consternation of his campaign advisers), Cayetano had said, "I think the state should get out of the business of marrying people and leave that to the churches. Government should deal only with the legal aspects of such personal partnerships."
As Scott relates, "I was in the room when Ben [Cayetano] told the campaign leaders his position and the silence was deafening. Unfortunately, the public took Cayetano's positive position on Domestic Partnerships [aka Civil Unions] to mean he supported 'Gay Marriage' -- and the phones began to ring off the wall. It got very nasty. Even though I wrote a phone script for anyone answering the campaign phones to use to articulate the Lt. Governor's position on Domestic Partnerships, I was the one to whom literally all of the calls were directed. No one else in the campaign would deal with the 'uncomfortable' issue. So there I was, taking virtually all the heat on the very thing that I had warned the Gay community against. It was the most demoralizing period of my life because I had to listen to all of those hateful calls for 12 hours a day without any relief. Not one single other openly Gay person set foot near the Campaign."
Sadly, during his 1998 re-election campaign when Governor Cayetano held steadfast to his original support for Domestic Partnerships, he was literally demonized by the Gay community and its supporters for his public position against "Gay Marriage." Foster notes, "The Governor had never once wavered from his original position supporting Domestic Partnerships. Hearing only what they wanted to hear, the Gay community very nearly cost the election for the most-powerful political friend we ever had."
Along with several other LGBT political veterans, Scott completely withdrew from Hawaii's Gay political scene and was forced to witness the ensuing political bloodbath. Scott recalled, "People fled back into their closets in droves as the debacle played out in the media and at the polls during the following years." The 1996 legislative elections indeed validated Scott's original argument when the Democrats who had led the "Gay Marriage" charge in the State Legislature were virtually all targeted and defeated for reelection by the then-well-organized Radical Right Christian fundamentalists. Supportive Representatives Devon Nekoba, Annelle Amaral, Rey Graulty, Len Pepper and Jim Shon were ALL targeted and defeated by the now well-organised Radical Right.
As former Representative James (Jim) Shon, one of the defeated legislators later observed, "The issue was also important in derailing attempts to change leadership in the House, and Speaker Joe Souki [an old-guard status quo Conservative Democrat] kept his position. The Same Sex marriage issue also pretty well broke apart the integration of the Gay community with the health care agenda, as there was a lot of support for HIV funding, the needle exchange program, etc. Moderates were by then getting comfortable in dealing with Gay activists and organizations for common purposes relating to health. Also there are a number of progressives who might have been elected but lost because of it as well. The key is to look at the 1996 election returns, both the primary and general. Then in 1998 came the Hawai`i State Constitutional amendment. The Gay marriages and supportive court rulings during the last few years further heightened resentments against Liberals and have contributed to an infusion of energy and passion in the conservative religious groups, and further made it more difficult to bring back blue collar Democrats who have now gotten into the habit of voting Republican."
Scott and his bloodied political hui could do nothing but stand and watch with mouths agape as the "Gay Marriage" issue quickly swept across the entire country; "a bitter, ugly, high-profile battle with us losing in virtually every state." On September 21, 1996, the U.S. Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). NOTE: In a surprising turn of events, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA Section 3 on June 26, 2013.
After the Hawai`i constitutional amendment debacle, 46+ states (11 in 2004 alone) passed some version of Hawaii's Defense of Marriage statute and immediately after the 2004 elections, President George Bush again introduced a constitutional amendment. The Federal Marriage Amendment has been introduced in the United States Congress five times: in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and again in 2013 after the Supreme Court action. The legislation remains alive today. Read corroborating views HERE and HERE.
Backtracking here, even after the loss of so many supportive legislators in 1996, the Hawai`i Reciprocal Beneficiaries law was enacted on July 8, 1997 and provided limited state rights to same-sex couples, relatives and friends. The law "represents a commitment to provide substantially similar government rights to those couples who are barred by law from marriage. "Among the benefits extended to non-married reciprocal beneficiaries under the law are: property rights, including joint tenancy; the right to visit your partner in a hospital and make health care decisions for her or him;ability to inherit property without a will; and protection under Hawaii's domestic violence laws.
Foster later observed, "It was all absolutely insane. The original "Gay Marriage" proponents -- with the best of intentions -- to this day likely do not realize what grave damage their ill-conceived actions caused. In all probability, the political stature once enjoyed by Hawaii's Gay community will not be regained for decades. I have no doubt that the Same Sex Marriage issue in Hawai`i was the organising impetus for the Radical Right here in Hawai`i and indeed nationally. While we may never know for certain, the misguided Hawai`i effort may have indeed culminated in the defeat of Senator John Kerry for President of the United States and the election of George Bush."
After the Hawai`i Gay Marriage debacle, Scott returned to his long-neglected personal business, later writing, "While working with the Hawai'i State Legislature for HIV funding, job protection and Needle Exchange, I observed many issues being neglected, mismanaged or inappropriately controlled by the political powers in Hawai`i, issues affecting us all, and I want to somehow work for positive change."
And did he ever! Scott soon became more invloved with the Death With Dignity movement in Hawai`i and nationally and his role in the near-success in passing the "Oregon Law" in 2002 is well-documented Here.As his resume reveals, Scott Foster has continued to embrace many, many important issues affecting us all, utilizing the grassroots organizing skills and technology-based communications skills he perfected during the early years of AIDS.
During the 2004 Presidential and state elections, Scott was one of four key kitchen cabinet political advisors to the Democratic Party State Chair. When Hawai`i suddenly became a "swing state" and President Bush sent Vice-President Dick Cheney over to rally his Hawai`i troops, Scott quickly organized the "Dick Cheney Halloween Party" and over 1000 people turned out, many in costume with approprite signs, to protest Cheney's appearance at the Hawai`i State Convention Center. Hawai`i remained a Blue State and the voters indeed added to the already overwhelming majority of Democrats in both the State House and Senate. Scott was then retained by the Party as the interim Communications Director immedately after the very successful 2004 election cycle and he held the position through the 2005 State Legislative Session. Scott was also the volunteer Communications Director (2003-2005) for the O`ahu County Democratic Party organisation which represents some 80% of Hawaii's Democrats.
Scott observed, "Having been in and around Hawai`i`s corridors of power for a quarter of a century, I can tell you that the Democrats lost the Governor's seat to a Republican in 2002 and she was reelected in 2004; eight years under a Republican governor simply because Hawaii's rank and file Democrats were just plain sick of the continuing corruption, rampant nepotism, and exclusionary attitude of the self-annointed political elite which evolved after 50 years of Democratic Party control. We Gays must remember that the Hawai`i State Legislature and the various county councils have many elected Democrats who in reality, are Moderate or Conservative Republicans and they vote that way on social issues."
"Anything is possible in this complex, freightened society and world -- but unless something changes dramatically and the LGBT communities become better organized again in Hawai`i and we strengthen our relationships with other progressive organizations by being there to support their issues (women, seniors, other minorities, and unions) -- as they have helped us -- one might expect more of the same dysfunction for the forseeable future."
"For me, the single most important thing that a LGBT person can do is to come out in anyway they can. One might begin by phoning or introducing themselves to their elected officials and telling them, "I am a LGBT person living in your district. My family, friends and I vote and we are asking for your support for our legislation." One can start there."
Today, Scott Foster continues to work to achieve social justice equality for all of Hawaii's consumers via the organization he help found in 1995 with the help of the American consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Advocates For Consumer Rights.