Some days in O-Town you get both the yin and the yang, the matter and anti-matter of an issue, if you will. Feb. 14, Valentine's Day, was such a day. It started out with a rally to strip gay people of certain rights, and ended with a rally to encourage tolerance toward gay people. And the city didn't even explode.
For the folks at the Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage, V-Day marked a perfect opportunity to launch a statewide campaign to ban gays from marrying in the state, and enshrine that in the Constitution, even though state law currently forbids that same thing.
So we, along with a scattering of local press types, drove down to the notoriously pink Renaissance Condominium Complex on Ivanhoe Boulevard for the group's press conference. There were plenty of familiar faces: Mat Staver, the head of the Liberty Counsel; John Stemberger of Florida Family Action, a spin-off of the very anti-gay Focus on the Family; Alan Chambers from Exodus International; and other religious-right types. By 11 a.m., we found our way to the third floor, where an Orlando police officer stood watch to keep the queers in hand, presumably.
Inside we found an unnerving backdrop. On a stage behind the podium were families, the smiling, happy type the fundies would have you believe are threatened if gays are allowed to swish down the aisle. In the center, on a platform higher than the rest, a newlywed couple stood in their respective gown and tux, holding hands. The bride looked freakishly doll-like, but we digress.
Understand, the coalition told us time and again, that an amendment is not designed to harm gays. It's to protect marriage, that fragile social institution so imperiled that two men taking vows could torpedo the whole damn thing. Of course the subtext here is that homosexuality is bad and wrong and shouldn't be protected by the state or "activist judges," and as soon as it is we'll all be wearing bloomers and watching The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Oddly enough, even Gov. Jeb Bush thinks this is a bit premature and unnecessary, considering the Defense of Marriage law Staver authored in 1996 is still in effect.
And just what's wrong with a little codified discrimination? Oh, nothing, except maybe that it encourages some people to think that they don't have to treat others like human beings; that maybe it's OK to indulge their hatred. No less than seven incidents of violence and petty vandalism have recently plagued the largely gay (or gay-friendly) businesses of the ViMi area, most involving window-smashing and/or creative egg-throwing. Things are starting to get a little too serious in a place where haircolor used to be encouraged, even required, for men. So serious, in fact, that one Peacock Room patron was beaten senseless last month while walking home.
"Three white males in a car pulled up to him, called him a 'faggot,' and then beat him up, broke his nose, and kicked him in the head," recounted Commissioner Patty Sheehan, speaking at the Love not Hate Rally Feb. 14 behind the Peacock Room. "Of course, it took two straight guys to beat up one gay guy."
Clearly, it's time for the gay community to start showing the filed edges of its pearly whites, so Sheehan organized an informal sidewalk march on Valentine's Day, starting at the Peacock, heading up to Colonial, and then back again. The event drew about a hundred supporters with poster boards, ready to make their presence known in the rush-hour rubberneck. Beyond spectacle, Sheehan's main intention with Love not Hate is to redefine perceptions of personal safety. She's encouraging people to program 911 into their speed dials so that they might become the eyes and ears of the police department, who some say currently have neither.
OK, that's just us. And we're obviously gay.
Anyway, with churches full of marriage-amendment crusaders, the climate couldn't be more ripe for change, says Sheehan.
"I think that this whole anti-gay marriage thing has created a climate where, instead of just rolling down their windows and calling us names, now they're actually pulling over and beating us up. The end result of all discrimination is violence; it's happened throughout history."
So, like, the other night, we got really hammered and we were just hanging out when Duane™ goes, "Dude, we should totally call this website I heard about, SlackerTown.com."
And we were like, "Dumbass. It's Happytown™, and there's no website. Well, not one you can really call. You are so trashed."
And Duane™ goes, "No, man. I don't mean the super-popular column in Orlando Weekly, dick. I mean the website you can dial and leave a drunk-ass message on, then check out how wasted you were in the morning. It's cool."
So we dialed the number, (321) 600-1200, taking note of how sweet it is that it's a local call because it's a local website created by a 27-year-old Orlando guy named Chris Bayne, who admits to having a thing about drunk dialing. "It was to try to help me with my own problem," says Bayne.
We left a message about how f'-ed up we were, then called back later to confirm that, indeed, we were seriously f'-ed up. And so now we completely concur that it is a very cool site. It's all about drinking. There are stories about drinking, photos of drunk people riding lawn tractors, drunk e-mails, tips on places to get drunk and a forum on Real Radio FM-104 for some reason, etc.
But the real reason to visit the site is to hear some serious drunk dialing. We especially liked the chick who was seeing quadruple when she called, and the ladies who, under the influence, discovered interesting places to stow their glow sticks. See, liquor makes you do things you regret, which is why it is bad and evil and wrong.
LETTERS TO BUDDY!
Real e-mails from the mayor's in-box!
I was visiting your lovely city the other day, and while walking down Main Street I found a nickel. There it was, just lying in the street on the edge of a puddle. I picked it up and asked everyone around me if they'd dropped the nickel, but nobody claimed it.
It's a 1998 nickel with plenty of scratches and marks on it (I don't know if that's the way it originally was or if it's from the foot and car traffic that moved over it repeatedly before I found it). I was wondering if your lovely city had a lost and found office, if anyone's come by to report a missing nickel, and how I would go about sending the nickel in.
Thank you so much. Your photo on your city's website makes you look gorgeous. Your city has fantastic drainage.
John F. Reed