The Blend has been a virtual coffeehouse where vigorous (but polite) political expression was encouraged on myriad topics including LGBT issues, race relations, the religious right, and gender issues. This outlet for commentary and original reporting had a great run that has been gratifying to produce and hopefully enlightening for readers. As we close the doors today, thanks for the love, the barbs, the critics, the good (and energizing, but tiring) times.
Just imagine how I feel right now after the last week — SCOTUS left me in a helluva lurch, let me tell you. The landmark rulings on DOMA and Prop 8 and the Voting Rights Act show just how much more activism and work is left to do.
That this court could essentially say that race isn’t not much of an issue in the states covered by the VRA in this day and age is preposterous. Bouncing the responsibility to this Congress to address is laughable. I will say that, given what we’ve seen over the last couple of election cycles and the attempts to suppress the vote, it is time to expand that pre-clearance map, actually.
And on LGBT rights, while people rightfully celebrate the strikedown of a portion of DOMA covering federal benefits and the return of marriage rights for same-sex couples in California, the high court issued the most restrictive ruling possible for the win — it dodged the issue of the constitutional right of gay and lesbian couples to marry. That means those of us in states with marriage amendments will have to deal with denial of many critical rights and legal uncertainties until a boatload of challenges inevitably bounce it back to SCOTUS to resolve.
Today also happens to be my ninth wedding anniversary. Kate and I were married in Vancouver, B.C. Canada in 2004. So we sit here in a state without employment discrimination protections, in a marriage unrecognized by the state.
Gee, what a time to stop blogging, you say? There is so much more left to say and do. But it’s time; someone else, sadly, has to take the baton from me. As I said in my announcement post, sometimes real life — in my case, serious health matters — have rendered me left to focus on the more pressing task of holding down the full-time job that puts a roof over my head and health insurance to keep me going for as long as I can.
A new channel debuted on FDL, Justice For All, that takes on many of the same issues covered by PHB. My PHB co-bloggers Laurel Ramseyer, Alvin McEwen and Autumn Sandeen helm that blog.
She’s not dead (yet), Jim
While the need to actually get sleep means I no longer have the time or energy to write long-form pieces or to go out to do original reporting, I will still be active on social media (Facebook, Twitter, G+). Blogging/citizen journalism, unfortunately, was not an avenue that I could carve out a space to make a living, though others from that initial class of new media bloggers did get absorbed into traditional media. Many, like myself, nevertheless, found our work ballooning into a full-time second job involving online and offline activism. For us it was unpaid or marginally supported (through ads) labor of love. In my case, it went on for nine years, and PHB made a dent in the political world of LGBT politics as new media challenged not only foes and the establishment, but our own advocacy organizations.
Some PHB history below the fold. I hope you enjoy the ride back in the time machine.
PHB spanned a very interesting time period in American political history — the lows and highs of progress in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender movement — at a time that America found itself ready and willing to elect its first black President.
In the beginning…
That certainly wasn’t on my mind back in July 2004 when I started the Blend as a forum for me to shout into the digital void in frustration of the state of politics under President George W. Bush in a year that would see “marriage protection” amendments pass en masse in the fall election, based in part on the work of a then-closeted gay man heading up the RNC, Ken Mehlman, to roil voters by stoking hate against the LGBT community.
Wind that clock forward to today and Mr. Mehlman is now out of the closet and in fact worked hard to ensure that marriage equality passed in New York State — and it has bloomed around the country and rulings in late June 2013 that saw the death of Prop 8 and a portion of DOMA struck down are proof things are on the upswing. Stranger things have happened along the way than that during PHB times — take the travails of Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) and a host of closeted self-loathing homos with the political power to oppress those living out of the closet. Many were busted in spectacular fashion in the public sphere engaging in acts that were both hilarious and pathetic. It only helped our cause.
In the beginning, I never really expected anyone to drop by and leave comments (a way to open discussion with the bloghost and others who read a particular post). But somehow, eventually, folks dropped by, from near and far, to share what they thought about a particular rant I had for the day.
It became clear that blogging about news stories involving LGBT concerns could give those who visited the Blend an insight into the progress (or lack thereof) of gay rights in Red State/Blue State America. The power of blogging is that you not only reach the readers of the blog, but the venue can serve as its own form of activism, a tool to spur action on issues that matter to us.
Readers who came to the blog regularly were treated to my reactions to the personal and political and toss in their observations — it truly was our little coffeehouse. I’m not an expert in anything other than the what the sum of my life experiences has given me.
Contributors/guest baristas to the Blend over the years: ‘Radical’ Russ Belville, Julian Sharp, Autumn Sandeen, Daimeon Pilcher, Louise (Andi), Lurleen (Laurel Ramseyer), Keori (Mara), Julien Sharp, Terrance Heath, Scott Wooledge, and Alvin McEwen — they all added a level of diversity to the progressive perspective here that we all cherished.
The LGBT community is obviously not monolithic. Issues of concern to one element may not resonate with another, be it race, gender, gender expression or position on the political spectrum. What unites us all is that the hearty portion of the larger society continues to demonize us. At this time, some of it is just laughable, but you have to remind yourselves — these professional bigots earn a paycheck every day doing this. We have to put them out of business.
I did post about personal issues on the blog — about pets, vacations, my wife. I wanted to make it clear that there was someone human behind the screen.
The mark it made…
Pam’s House Blend was ranked in the top 50 progressive political blogs. Michael Rogers, editor and publisher of gay blog PageOneQ.com (now Raw Story Media) noted:
“Pam is certainly the most important lesbian blogger in America. She’s a lesbian in a gay blogging world that is overwhelmingly gay men. She’s a blogger as a woman in an overwhelmingly male-dominated world and she’s of color and the internet is so skewed to the privileged.”
Mike Airhart of Ex Gay Watch said,
“Thanks to efforts by bloggers such as Spaulding, XGW can spend less time analyzing the religious right and more time focusing on exgays.”
I’ll share a few of the more notable events in PHB history — ones that made me realize the blog had more reach than I imagined. You’ll notice that I won’t spend a lot of time talking about the anti-LGBT professional class; they don’t really rate a mention because, well, this is a retrospective of my choosing. Trust me, PHB did dozens if not hundreds of posts taking down those fools. Search the archives for a boatload of fundiemania.
1. A discombobulated Governor blows a LGBT-related question in a public forum and calls me.
One occurred on August 9, 2007, when I was invited to cover the Dem Presidential candidates at the The Visible Vote ’08 forum in L.A., put together by HRC and LOGO. It was the first time I was in a press room with major newspaper reporters and we were all watching from a room separate from the candidates, watching the live feed. I was liveblogging the event, and there wasn’t anything remarkable up until Melissa Etheridge, one of the panelists, asked Governor Bill Richardson (NM):
“Do you think homosexuality is a choice?”
I blogged – Richardson: He says it is choice. he doesn’t like to categorize people. he says he isn’t a scientist, and doesn’t understand it all. [No sh*t.] He starts to go into a long discussion about growing up as a Hispanic and that people deserve equal civil rights.
Let’s go to the videotape:
Since I was liveblogging (and there was no live-Tweeting back then), what I said was apparently seen in short order by the Richardson camp, long before the traditional reporters in the room had their pieces up for consumption. I am standing outside the venue after the event is over an my cell phone rings. It is a panicked Bill Richardson, calling from his limo, trying to do damage control. One of his first tasks was to call the lowly blogger! I was like WTF? I composed myself enough to tell the Governor that his answer was at best uninformed, and I was simply passing along what he said, and what I thought about it. He could certainly revise and explain himself. And he later did. From my post at the time:
A snippet of his explanation about the gaffe about whether homosexuality is a choice at the HRC/Logo forum on Thursday:
“I’d flown all night from New Hampshire. I screwed up, I made a mistake. This is an issue you’re born with, it’s a not a choice, it’s not a lifestyle. I didn’t understand the question…there was an implication that politics intervenes with science. And I always love the word “choice”, I am for freedom of choice, I have in my health care plan a choice where everyone can choose their health care plan and I always see it as a golden word. I didn’t think it through what Melissa was asking me.”
Governor Richardson goes on to urge people to again look at his record of advocating for pro-LGBT legislation and domestic partnerships. He really needs better counsel about how to approach these matters (let’s be charitable) less awkwardly. I don’t doubt his sincerity and efforts in the area of LGBT rights, but he has got to be able to communicate more deftly than this if he’s running for president. His folks aren’t serving him well, he wasn’t prepped effectively for questions that were bound to come up.
Kerry Eleveld of The Advocate sat down with Richardson the day after the forum (he’d obviously had some sleep and was a bit less shell-shocked than he was in my conversation with him directly after the event).
2. The White House LGBT liaison sits down with PHB (after avoiding traditional LGBT media) and apparently doesn’t think I’m going to ask on-the-record questions.
What’s interesting about this bit of history — it took place on November 14, 2009 — seems like a lifetime ago — before the tortuous road to repeal of DADT, and back when progressives and members of the LGBT establishment were quite cozy with the WH, telling LGBT activists over and over to give President Obama time, don’t rush our issues, blah, blah, blah. Oh, the flack we bloggers received, and we warned the left — you think we’re whining? Just wait, the screw will turn on your issues shortly. And we saw how that turned out, silence and patience didn’t rule the day. LGBTs being ornery about civil rights were hardly the problem.
So with that in mind, the White House was not exactly welcoming contact with LGBT media, and LGBT bloggers weren’t on the radar at all (eventually I did go to the first WH briefing for LGBT media (photo) with Valerie Jarrett on July 1, 2010, the first to invite bloggers — though the President didn’t make an appearance).
But in 2009, I was the first blogger or member of the traditional LGBT press to interview then-Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, Brian Bond, who came to deliver the keynote address at the Equality NC Conference that year. This was a moment in true hilarity — I can only tell you part of the mind-altering experience (guess I’ll have to leave the best parts for a book about the goings-on that occurred during the interview). The main issue is that Bond had come under fire for his seeming ineffectiveness in pushing LGBT issues when it came to the Obama White House, something I had blogged about, along with journalists Karen Ocamb and Kerry Eleveld, who did a post-mortem on my interview. From my post (it includes the transcript):
What is puzzling is that Brian Bond didn’t think he was going to be asked to go on the record with me, but I wasn’t having that. Since I knew there would be talking point regugitated to obvious question I chose to ask him more philosophical questions about how this White House relates to new media, the lack of trust in engaging a large slice of the online LGBT community) and why more than one-way, highly massaged communication isn’t working, and isn’t believable when compared to this admin’s actions.
During the course of the interview, Bond offered this definition of his role as White House Deputy Director for the Office of Public Engagement/LGBT liaison:
1) To advocate within the building, and 2) Let the people know where the President stands on LGBT issues and the work we are doing for equality under the law.
Well, given #2 is part of his job description, Bond has been invisible and inaccessible prior to now. His demeanor and openness about the schism, suggests the administration is under pressure to address these communication issues/problems of the White House’s own making, but that no one is quite sure how to deal with it, thus this meeting and visibility of Brian Bond.
…What I read into this, looking for an overarching theme, is that the White House knows it’s in the dog house with a segment of the LGBT community — the grassroots — and is seeking ways to bypass the traditional communications structures and directly to us.
The difficulty of achieving this is considerable quite frankly; it means breaking new ground that acknowledges the shift in the delicate balance of the traditional information chain with not just LGBTs, but all constituency groups that have developed a strong online community presence has changed. These political venues are not enveloped and run by traditional advocacy organizations.
3. Pam’s House Blend’s Autumn Sandeen covers the Angie Zapata Murder Trial on TruTV.
We had the opportunity to spotlight the horror of violence against the transgender community. It was embodied by the trial of the man who brutally murdered Greeley, CO resident Angie Zapata, an 18-year-old transgender woman.
Autumn Sandeen, in conjunction with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), went out to cover the trial, which was broadcast live by TruTV (formerly CourtTV). Autumn sat down with anchor/reporter Beth Karas to discuss the landmark nature of the case.
Justice for Angie and her family is Allen Ray Andrade spending the rest of his natural life in prison. Justice for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community — especially the transgender community — was seeing him convicted of committing a hate crime under Colorado’s Bias Motivated Crime statute, and is having Allen Ray Andrade getting sentenced to the maximum sentence for his bias motivated crime.
In other news…
The Blend was one of a handful of LGBT blogs in the “First Graduating Class” of sorts –credentialed as part of the general press pool to cover the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. PHB was one of six black-run blogs credentialed that year. Contributor Autumn was one of the first two transgender reporters to receive credentials.
Pam’s House Blend baristas got around – we covered many conferences and live news events over the years (and as citizen journalists breaking new media ground, we were often the subject of interviews). We were more than armchair opinion-generating, Cheetos-stained PJ-wearing bloggers… Here’s a playlist of “The Best of the Blend” that includes interviews we did, as well as conference talks and media appearances, starting off with “Life in the Shoes of a Blogger.”
You can read some of the press coverage about Pam’s House Blend here.
I’ve made a lot of great friends and met a lot of people along the way, and hopefully opened a few eyes, particularly with my posts about the intersection of LGBT and race, and even the politics of hair. The Blend sat in a unique place in all of this — I brought the perspective of a black lesbian living in the South to the dialogue — broadcasting a voice certainly not represented in the power structure of the LGBT movement. It was the first major blog to feature a transgender contributor, and it was important to me to bring talent to the blog from under-represented regions and voices.
Some milestones and awards…
- Performed the first-ever live-blogging events for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s annual dinner in May 2006 and the National Black Justice Coalition’s Second Annual Black Church Summit in March 2007.
- Landed exclusive interviews with the first openly gay man to run for the U.S. Senate, Jim Neal, as well as the only out lesbian serving in Congress, Tammy Baldwin.
- In 2006 received Distinguished Achievement Award from The Monette-Horwitz Trust for making significant contributions toward the eradication of homophobia.
- Named one of Huffington Post’s Ultimate Game Changers in Politics in 2009
- Provided commentary on CNN during the 2008 presidential election cycle
- Honored with the 2009 Women’s Media Center Award for Online Journalism
- Received the 2009 Courage Award from the New York City Anti-Violence Project “for the significant contributions you have made to raising awareness about anti-violence work.
- In 2009 selected as one of the OUT 100 for the year.
- 2010, named one of TheGrio’s 15 LGBT leaders of tomorrow
- 2010: held the first-ever candidate liveblogs on LGBT issues with all the Democratic candidates running for the U.S. Senate from North Carolina.
- 2011: GLAAD Media Awards: Nominated for the inaugural Best Blog prize
- Honored in 2012 by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network for Black History Month: Black Heroes of the LGBT Movement
- In 2012 honored with the Bob Page Equality Champion Award by the Equality NC Foundation for online and offline work against Amendment One, the ballot initiative that bans legal recognition of same-sex couples.
And I cannot go without mentioning the incredible amount of time and effort that went into covering the Amendment One battle here in NC. There was a lot of online and offline activism on during that draining emotional battle to keep marriage discrimination off of the books in the state. It failed, but I guarantee this is the last time an amendment of this nature will pass in this country. The tide is even beginning to turn here; that foul ballot initiative simply managed to get before voters too soon.
The end of the Blend
As I also mentioned in the announcement post, The Blend could continue limping along, but I decided that if I cannot produce material at the frequency or with the same level of quality, enthusiasm and effectiveness, it’s really time to close the doors to this coffeehouse — and work to ensure it continues to have a life as an archive, a snapshot in our digital political history.
Pamshouseblend.com will eventually redirect to an archive site, however, the content will remain here at pamshouseblend.firedoglake.com while all of the files are converted and migrated (it will take a while, since it’s me, myself and I doing all of the work, so it’s yet another thing on my plate to do in my “spare time”).
On June 16, 2013 I thought I could get away with announcing that I was shutting down the Blend with little fanfare as it was also Father’s Day on a Sunday.
Boy, was I wrong. There was a massive outburst of reaction on Facebook and Twitter and the Internet (see this Storify collection). It was overwhelming — and kind of weird, like being at your own funeral without the pine box/urn. I say “unexpected” in the headline because I truly didn’t think it would matter this much. I still have a hard time placing the work I do on the blog in the context of things like “success” or “popularity” because the latter is hard to gauge sitting here where, aside from a few comments on the blog or social media, just how far and wide your words reach, since most people lurk, not comment. The former is hard to define in today’s new media world — success can come in awards and honors (I do have a number of those), professional opportunities (those never materialized in any way that I could consider quitting my day job), or financial (that’s laughable). But apparently the Blend is well-loved by enough people that they kindly shared their thoughts in numbers that surprised me.
After I announced that I was shutting down the coffeehouse, I went on the Michelangelo Signorile Show on Sirius XM Satellite Radio to talk about the blog. I am honored to call Mike — a legendary LGBT activist and journalist — a dear friend and he’s been a big booster of the Blend over the years. He also recently co-authored with me a chapter about the Righthaven copyright scourge and its impact on media authorship in a book, Copyright Shakedown: The Rise and Fall of Righthaven.
Anyway, we chatted for about 15 minutes and discussed the state of blogging back in 2004 when the Blend launched, and how it has changed over the years, particularly with the recent high impact of social media on activism. You can read Mike’s write up on Huffington Post, where he is the editor of Gay Voices.
Spaulding talked about starting the blog in 2004 and never imagining it would become the award-winning, highly-noted must-read site that often garnered media attention as well a notice from mainstream gay groups Spaulding sometimes criticized, like the Human Rights Campaign. “There were not many blogs out there [9 years ago],” she said. I wasn’t blogging to an audience. I was just blogging about my frustrations about the virulently antigay campaign that George Bush was running. For the first year to year-and-a-half the most I had in terms of readership was 300 people. I thought that was enormous and that I’d never surpass it.”
A cautionary tale about our fragile digital history
The Blend started off on the Blogger platform in 2004. It developed a large following while hosted on the Soapblox platform from 2006-2010. This new implementation allowed for community diaries that allowed for incredible interaction with readers on a variety of topics, and this allowed LGBT and ally voices to be heard from around the country. From those ranks I was able to develop a slew of regular contributors for the blog that represented the diversity of the community.
PHB and many other progressive blogs made the news in a famous Soapblox hacking incident on January 7, 2009 that almost deep-sixed these hubs of citizen journalism (the debacle was covered by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker; I was interviewed for the piece). It was a hot mess.
After Firedoglake’s Jane Hamsher kindly offered a space on her blog’s roster in June 2011, PHB switched over to the WordPress platform. Unfortunately with that move we lost the community diaries during the conversion, so you will not find those here.
Hopefully one day we can find a way to reconcile and retrieve those diaries; but it is a cautionary tale that the digital history of citizen journalism and commentary is very fragile. We take it for granted that the history of the LGBT movement is being preserved, but this slice of it is definitely fragmented and at risk of being permanently lost.
I do hope some individual or institution picks this archive ball up for all of the LGBT blogs that have been a part of this last decade of political discourse and activism.
And what’s not to love — she mentioned in a shout-out my much-loved (often-derided) fave band Journey.
“Pam, you are a true citizen journalist. I will continue to check out your personal posts about your favorite band, Journey, but I will miss your daily House Blend. Rest and take care of yourself, you certainly have earned it. If you are out there and you have a voice that needs to be heard and a perspective that should be shared, maybe now is the time to take up the banner that Pam has held aloft for so long.”
Thank you all…peace out.
UPDATE: Some kind kudos from my NC-based peeps via Equality NC:
And I collected some of the kind comments on social media today…