DECEMBER 17, 1999 • HOUSTON VOICE
neiu kids an the net
Wired Strategies' John Aravosis has created a
one-man, online activist effort through his
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Aravosis agreed, but indicated that a
source's credibility, and value, should not
necessarily depend on a long membership
list or a large staff.
"Any web-site can pretend to be anything
they want, but ultimately they have to put up
or shut up," agreed David Goldman, executive
director of HateWatch, an Internet hate watchdog group. "You offer up data, and if it shows
itself to be honest, true and insightful, it will
grow and be helpful to people."
Like Aravosis, Goldman's HateWatch,
currently made up of six volunteers, has
made a name for itself by talcing up the
issue of on-line bigotry—including the
enforcement of AOL's policy against hate
speech—and has become a web source for
information and discussion on the topic.
Goldman expects HateWatch to attain nonprofit status in a few weeks, and plains to grow
the organi-aZation to include a membership and
full-time staff. Goldman takes a kind of
Darwinian approach to on-line advocacy work.
"Hatewatch has a very good n.ame right
now," he said matter-of-factly "I think we have
offered a good voice on on-line hate and bigotry, ... but no organization has the right to
exist forever. If HateWatch loses credibility, or
loses popularity, and it's time for us to go away,
that's what will happen. We are part of public
trust. If people like what we're doing, and they
support us, we will be here."
Few voices, loud noise
One recent example of a small group
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making a big statement, Aravosis pointed
out, is the publicity generated by the group
Queerwatch when it vocally opposed the
death penalty during the trial of Aaron
McKinney, one of two men charged with
the murder of Matthew Shepard.
"But in the end, they raised a legitimate issue
in the community. It reflected a debate that's
really going on," he noted.
MichaeLPetrelis, one of the founders of
Queerwatch, described the group as a loose
network of about two dozen activists all
over the country, with no formal structure
or mission. He believes this flexible street-
activist approach allows the group to work
"We don't represent a large constituency,
which I think is good," he said. "A handful of
people can change the world."
Bill Dobbs, a member of Queerwatch and a
leader of the Ad Hoc Committee for an Open
Process, a similar network formed in opposition to the Millennium March on Washington,
also claims an "ad hoc" issue-based approach
eliminates wasteful bureaucratic process and
gets results. The Ad Hoc Committee won't
even exist after the march is over, Dobbs said.
Shaping an image
"Dealing with the Democratic Party is
very similar to getting fucked in the ass; the
first time is usually the most painful,"
began a press release circulated last month
by National Gay Lobby.Org. "But, after several good screwings, almost everyone gets
comfortable with the experience."
The commentary, about the failure of the
Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was penned by
Michael Romanello, a founder of NGL.
The group attracted attention recently when
Romanello called for a boycott of AOL on the
NGL web-site; the group also threatened to
send street hustlers and transsexuals to protest
outside the suburban Washington homes of
With a core volunteer staff of about
four, Romanello said they plan to grow
NGL into a full-fledged gay rights
organization with a non-profit arm and
a registered political action committee.
The group asks voluntary fees from
members to cover operating expenses.
Romanello acknowledges he is more
outspoken than some other activists.
"Because we are not politicians, and
have no vested interest in keeping our
jobs, we can say things the way we see
them," he said.
He defended the effectiveness of profanity and extreme language in NGL's
public statements. "It was meant to get
attention, and it did," he said.
Another Internet group has taken a
very different approach.
the Stonewall Society was founded by
Codi Penance in Baton Rouge to combat
what he views as destructive infighting
among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. The Stonewall Society consists of a web-site where supporters can log
on and sign a pledge that they will seek to
end separatism and discrimination and seek
to promote acceptance among gays.
"The organization is more conceptual
than bureaucratic," he said, saying that
69 people have taken the pledge. The
Stonewall Society may develop local
chapters, he said, but the web-site will
remain the center of the organization.
of park arrests
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Smudy, the city's assistant parks director
who was acting director of the parks department when the covert operation was started
in August 1997.
"This is not a moral issues. Everyone is
welcome in our parks, but anyone that
breaks the law will be punished," he said.
But when park rangers arrest a man during the operation, details of the arrest will
be shared with the media and his employer if he is an elected official or a city, county or school system employee, Smudy said.
If the person works for a private company, officials don't rule out notification of
the arrest to the employer, Sumdy said.
And Smudy and, other park officials
don't recall a woman ever being arrested
during the string, which uses a team of
five, male-only park rangers.
The travel warning, patterned after
U.S. State Department notices about dangerous conditions U.S. citizens could
encounter in other countries, accuses
park rangers of incitement to commit illegal acts, entrapment, false arrest and falsification of arrest reports.
"Gay men living in and around San
Antonio, Texas and those contemplating
travel to that location are warned that thc
City of San Antonio operates a covert operation that targets gay men," said the six-
paragraph warning, issued primarily to
media outlets outside San Antonio.
McGowan said the community center has
a contract to use workers who have been sentenced to community service by the courts.
The center has potential workers fill out a
questionnaire that, among other items, asks
about treatment by law enforcement officers.
Through that questionnaire, the center
learned of a large number of people arrested
for indecent exposure and related assault
charges, McGowan said.
That prompted a meeting with city
officials in which they admitted the
undercover operation. Parks director
Malcolm MaMlfcvs as well as Smudy
and others from the department attended the meeting, along with a city attorney and a representative for the mayor.
"We were attempting to negotiate
with them," he said. "But two things
happened that made it appear they
were not going to negotiate."
McGowan sent a letter to Matthews
with suggestions for other ways to
clean up parks and decrease indecent
exposure incidents. But McGowan said
the response he received focused on the
tone of his letter, rather than the
attempts to end the undercover operation.
Separately, McGowan submitted a
Freedom of Information Act request
to the city to acquire records related
to the operation to help substantiate
that could prove some of the center's
allegations. City officials hedged at
the request, but later said they would
McGowan then issued the travel warning.
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