Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On Diversity, Much More Work To Do

Last week, was Diversity Week within the Cable industry. If one statement crystallized how much more work needs to be done in the area, it was MTV President Christina Norman’s bold assertion that even MTV—long considered an industry leader in creating a more diverse workplace—was still “only rounding second base.”

For people with a disability—like HIV—and for gays and lesbians, sitting on second base would be a pretty lofty perch, when just getting on the playing field is frequently an issue. Throughout the two days of the NAMIC conference, the terms “the disabled,” or “GLBT” were rarely mentioned, if at all, as qualifications for the definition of “diversity.” Of all the major speakers throughout the week, only ESPN/ABC’s George Bodenheimer, who received the Kaitz Foundation’s corporate diversity award on behalf of his network, expressed an inclusive vision of diversity when he said that his network would continue to be sensitive to issues of “race, gender, orientation and disability.”

True, the pre-printed, 2007 calendar that NAMIC handed out at the end of its conference included one month (October) devoted to recognizing the disabled, and one month (June) to acknowledging the pride of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender communities. But, it would be a bold step toward genuine diversity during “Diversity Week,” when the Multi-ethnicity in NAMIC’s good name is replaced with “More diversity.” Neither gays, lesbians, nor people with a disability—whether from HIV or the loss of an eye in Iraq—comprise an “ethnicity.”

The irony is that particularly in communities of color—Black, Latino, Asian—being gay or being HIV positive, can be dangerous to one’s health. Black men would sooner have their families believe that they contracted HIV through IV drug use then through unprotected sex with other men, because the stigma toward being gay is, in some parts of the community, more hostile than the stigma toward being a drug-user. Black & Latino churches—after decades of leading the nation to the high ground on civil and human rights matters of life, death and survival, have, in some cases, become hotbeds of homophobia, driving gay Black & Latino men deeper into the closet, and keeping HIV positive men and women of color away from getting the medical care they need, until the disease is too far advanced. And, in Asian/Pacific Islander communities across the nation—and around the world—a culture of shame surrounding sexuality has pushed teen suicide to record levels.

No less a life-long fighter for civil and human rights than Julian Bond, Chairman of the NAACP, has recognized the urgency for traditional civil rights & diversity organizations to lock arms with GLBT groups, to halt hate together. In a recent full-page advertisement for the NAACP in Roll Call, an influential Capitol Hill publication, Bond insisted that the Hate Crimes Bill before Congress include “sexual orientation,” resisting the sinister strategy of some to split off historic civil rights organizations from their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

In the ad, Bond and the NAACP herald a clarion call to battling all types of hate:

“Somewhere in America a hate crime occurs every hour. Churches are burned because of the people in attendance or the God worshipped within. People are attacked because of who they are, who they love, what they look like, and where they were born.”

It’s long past time, for the Cable industry’s outstanding diversity organizations—and the industry’s top corporate leadership—to act on the message of Julian Bond and the NAACP, and leave no group—bearing the scars of discrimination and exclusion—behind. True commitment to diversity dictates nothing less.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Protection For All

I am a great believer in protection.

I believe in the protection of the people you love, as much as is humanly possible from meanness, pain, and the randomness of life. I believe in the protection of co-workers, colleagues and staff from injustice and abuse of any kind. I believe in the protection of the civil and human rights of all people, regardless of race, age, sex, faith, ethnicity or sexuality.

And I believe strongly in the very practical protection provided by condoms for a healthy sex life, free of worry over HIV, STDs, or unwanted pregnancies. It’s the reason why I am passionate about Cable Positive’s PSAs always communicating messages about HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention it’s the reason why I applauded Trojan’s bold public advertising campaign promoting condom usage as a sign of being an “evolved” human being. Condoms save lives, are a more realistic reflection of human behavior than abstinence, and have effectively reduced the rate of HIV infection in countries where there is full government and community support—and a lack of stigma—for their usage.

In my enthusiasm to support Trojan’s bold, socially responsible marketing of condom usage—a move toward getting Americans to think and act more maturely, sanely and safely about sex—I was particularly concerned that the parent companies of two of Cable Positive’s biggest supporters—Fox and CBS—whose cable holdings have donated millions of dollars of cash and pro-bono airtime to our fight against HIV/AIDS— were reported to have refused to air the condom ads. ( I later learned from Trojan, that several Viacom and Fox Cable networks did run the ads, including BET, Comedy Central, FX, MTV, Spike and VH1—all cable networks; none broadcast.)

In that context, I was particularly sensitive to the mention of any of Cable Positive’s long-time cable supporters in a negative light in the continuing condom story.

Two major Cable systems, Cox and Comcast—who have been huge supporters of Cable Positive’s work in the area of HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention, nationally, and in local communities across the country—were mentioned in a New York Times story as having rejected the Trojan ads. My mistake was relying upon the Times story as fact, rather than checking with Cable Positive’s friends at each of those Cable systems to verify the report.

As the good folks at Cox Communications in Atlanta pointed out to me, the Cox TV station referred to in Pittsburgh that refused to run the ad, was a Cox broadcast affiliate, not a cable station. In an age of increasing cross-ownership of cable and broadcast properties, the average consumer could be understandably confused, between which station is broadcast and which cable. That’s unfortunate, because cable—as evidenced by the $18 million and billion dollars of airtime donated to Cable Positive—far out-distances broadcast, satellite and telephone companies in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Comcast’s circumstances were a bit more complex. In two of the Trojan test markets of Pittsburgh and Seattle, the cable system would not allow the condom company to purchase local ads for “Adult Swim”, but did agree to permit “Adult Swim” to purchase national advertising, as well as several other networks.

So, “protection” was not only my concern. Cox and Comcast were appropriately concerned with protecting their good brand names, the local autonomy of their affiliates, and their solid reputations as strong supporters of Cable Positive’s work in the areas of HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention.

In my determination to advance the cause of sexual health “protection”, I should have exercised more care in protecting the reputations of two important sources of safer-sex information for millions of people across the country. It just underlines how much more work we all have to do in fighting HIV/AIDS.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

One of The People I Admire Most

At a time when there are so many excruciatingly bad examples of leadership in public life, it's an uplifting elixir to be reminded of the extraordinarily good people among us. No one is more "among us" at Cable Positive, and within the Cable industry as Dennis Mangers, President of the California Cable Television Association, past Chairman of Cable Positive's Board of Directors, present Executive Committee member of Cable Positive and the recipient of Cable Positive's first Brad Wojcoski Award for Community Leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Not only has Dennis been a powerful presence within the leadership of Cable Positive and in the fight against HIV/AIDS for at least 15 years, but he is with us each day, inspiring us to do better, and constantly raising the standard of how a human being can live a life that matters, in service to others.

The article reprinted below, from this Sunday's Sacramento Bee is a sparkling tribute to Dennis as a public leader, and as a person. I am proud to count him as a friend, colleague and confidant, and as one of the people I admire most.

Marcos Bretón: Role model for politicos with a secret

By Marcos Bretón - Bee Columnist
Published 12:00 am PDT Sunday, September 9, 2007

A conservative politician is branded as gay. His "outing" causes anguish in a man with 1950s sensibilities.

Such is the quagmire of Larry Craig, the tortured Idaho Republican busted in an airport men's room by a cop who thought Craig was soliciting him for sex.

The ensuing national debate has stayed in the toilet, reeking of homophobia -- the last frontier of socially accepted bigotry in America.

In conservative circles, Craig is condemned as "sick in the head." In liberal enclaves, people sneer at a family-values hawk caught cruising for sex in a public men's room.

But we can't be too smug in Sacramento because it's only been since 2002 when the first openly gay men were elected to the state Legislature.

The pioneers -- Democratic Assemblymen Mark Leno and John Laird -- are from San Francisco and Santa Cruz, two of the most liberal cities in America.

If there is a gay man elected from conservative country in California, he's hiding in the closets of the state Capitol.

But if he ventured out, Dennis Mangers would be there to help him.

"For men like this poor, tortured senator -- men who were married or in politics and are gay -- people send them to me," said Mangers from his office across the street from the state Capitol.

Mangers is an equally significant role model for those of us who are straight. He is an openly gay man who walks with respect in the corridors of political power. He built a life of achievements while discarding soul-destroying secrets. He isn't defined by his sexuality, but isn't ashamed of it either.

Mangers knows something about being an elected official with a secret.

At 67, Mangers is five years older than Craig. He's a Democrat from ideologically conservative Orange County. He was the eldest son of a macho dad, an Eagle Scout and just like Craig, a student body president in college.

Mangers married the homecoming queen, had children, served in the Navy, became a teacher, a principal and then in 1976, a state assemblyman.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Numbers and Dollars

Last week, two books about the AIDS epidemic accused the UNAIDS organization of pumping up its figures of HIV/AIDS infections in order to "dramatize the epidemic" and "increase donor funding.” Estimating the number of people who are HIV positive in any community--especially in under-developed countries where stigma against the disease can cost an HIV positive person his or her life--is a slippery slope. Because of that difficulty, one of the authors, James Chin, agreed with UNAIDS that the debate should be more about how to spend scarce resources than on the numbers of people infected.

One thing that is not under scrutiny is how big a role the media plays in educating the public on health topics ranging from obesity to important HIV/AIDS. According to recent Kaiser Family Foundation reports, over 70% of the American public gathers the majority of their health information from one or more media outlets. Maybe the public should do more than just listen.

Maybe consumers should question how much of their money is actually going to fight the disease when they invest in a product driven by a cause marketing campaign, but that’s a whole other blog. The bottom line is consumers do care about the fight against HIV/AIDS, it is evident in the great number of Cable Positive supporters and the great number of people you see wearing Red branded products walking down Seventh Avenue in Manhattan on any given day. Any measures that discredit the struggle to stop the spread of this disease in the eyes of the consumer costs more than money – it costs lives.

While we strongly believe that widest distribution of resources is paramount, we thought that a special look at UNAIDS methodology of estimating cases of HIV/AIDS was merited, especially since how the media reports this story could directly effect whether or not a person with AIDS receives anti-retroviral drugs.