The fury and the furry

My big, Greek civil-rights activist: “Tsakopoulos? Get out! Really?” Marghe Covino, community liaison for the Lambda Community Center, was responding to the news that the 2004 Robert Matsui Community Service Award at this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. dinner went to real-estate mogul Angelo Tsakopoulos. As it turns out, Covino wasn’t on hand to witness the bestowal (Tsakopoulos, ironically enough, was a no-show), because she had walked out in protest prior to the award’s announcement.

“I was sitting at the table listening to all these things about diversity, and there was nobody from our community,” said Covino, noting that, in previous years, representatives from the gay and lesbian community at least were invited to be part of the candlelight procession. “And all of a sudden I just went over the edge.”

Covino believes gays and lesbians historically have been marginalized by the local civil-rights community, even though California classifies them as a protected group. She recalls a seminal 1999 event—held in response to firebombings and the shotgun slayings of a gay couple—at which a gay- and lesbian-themed banner was taken down and Covino was not allowed in the greenroom for fear her presence would upset conservative rabbis.

So, this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. event, she said, just got to her. “If there’s 1,200 people sitting in that room, and they don’t hear the words gay and lesbian, those people will never know that they had dinner with gay and lesbian people and [that] nobody showed up with horns and two heads, nobody tried to convert them, nobody attacked their children, nobody did anything to them.”

That realization, Covino said, could have tangible benefits in the long run. “When our president institutionalizes second-class citizenship for us in the Constitution of the United States, as he appears determined to do, then perhaps these 1,200 people would not be moved at least to kick the hell out of us,” she said.

Covino ended up writing to Matsui, the Democratic congressman from Sacramento, who arranged a meeting between her and Capital Unity Council organizers in which everything was ironed out. (Disclosure: SN&R was an event co-sponsor.) Covino says apologies have been extended and that the gay and lesbian community will be participating in future events. “Our community doesn’t want to be a star in the Martin Luther King event,” she said. “We just want to be treated like every other group. And if their ministers are up there, our ministers are gonna be up there, too.”

Fun with prisoners: Assemblyman Mark Leno, himself an outspoken activist for the lesbian, gay and transgender community, came to the aid of investigative journalists last week with the introduction of Assembly Bill 1866. Leno’s legislation would overturn limits imposed by former Governor Pete Wilson in 1996 that forbade journalists from interviewing specific inmates (random interviews are still allowed, though cameras and recording devices are restricted). Leno cites controversies surrounding California’s correctional system and the current governor’s plans to eliminate the Office of the Inspector General as all the more reason to have someone act as a watchdog—in this case, the fourth estate.

Furvert: Bites was amused by local NBC-affiliate reporter Edie Lambert’s story Sunday on the intensive fund-raising that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing right now to promote his $15 billion bond measure. The story itself was nothing special, but the background graphic, featuring a big picture of Arnold and the words “Fundraising Furry” was priceless. The prominent typo immediately brought to mind disturbing images of our governor suddenly transforming himself into a “furry,” the name used to describe those zany sexual deviants who like to dress up in half-beast, half-human regalia to do God knows what (as opposed to “fuzzies,” who merely have a thing for big-headed animal mascot costumes). Guess he got fed up with all that bikini wax.