SAN DIEGO (Observer Update) - Former President Bill Clinton has come under fire from California gay rights groups for speaking to a trade group at a hotel being boycotted for its owner’s support of Proposition 8, the measure passed last November which bans same-sex marriage in the state, 365Gay.com reported.
Clinton is scheduled to address the annual convention of the International Franchise Association at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego on Sunday.
The hotel’s owner, Douglas Manchester, contributed $125,000 to the Proposition 8 campaign.
Following passage of Prop 8, gay activists mounted a campaign to boycott the hotel. Several groups already have canceled conventions at the hotel - costing Manchester’s facility an estimated $2 million.
Among those who bailed out of meeting at the hotel are conventions for the International Foundation of Employee Benefits, the San Diego Board of Realtors, the American Assn. of Law Schools and the California Nurses Association.
The California State Bar Association is under pressure to cancel its annual convention at the hotel.
Gay rights advocates will protest Clinton’s speech Sunday outside the hotel.
“Public officials must lead by example,” San Diego Councilman Todd Gloria told The Los Angeles Times. “I hope President Clinton respects the importance of this issue and moves his speech.”
A spokesperson for the former President told the Associated Press that while the former president sticks by his views about gay rights, he plans to honor his commitment to give the speech.
Clinton has a mixed record on LGBT issues. He signed the federal Defense of Marriage Act which bars the US government from recognizing same-sex couples, saying at the time he saw it as a way of stopped a proposed amendment to the US Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
Clinton also signed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” which bars gays from serving openly in the military. He said that the bill was a compromise to an all out bar on gays that would result in a witch hunt of homosexuals in the armed forces. ...
Clinton will likely cross a picket line when he delivers a keynote speech at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego on Sunday, reported the San Diego Tribune.
For several weeks, union officials and gay-rights activists behind a boycott of the hotel urged Clinton to cancel his appearance before the International Franchise Association – or at least move the address.
But a spokesman for the former president said Thursday that Clinton will keep his commitment to the trade group.
“He's obviously sympathetic to this cause,” Clinton spokesman Matthew McKenna said. “I don't think you can name a leader in the world who has done more to advance gay and lesbian issues.”
McKenna noted that Clinton campaigned against Proposition 8 last year and said that if the hotel or owner Doug Manchester had extended the invitation – rather than the trade group – Clinton would not have accepted.
Earlier Thursday, eight prominent supporters of organized labor and gay marriage, including San Diego City Councilman Todd Gloria, released an open letter to Clinton requesting that he call off or move the speaking engagement.
“Please do not violate our boycott,” it concludes. “Please do not speak at the Manchester Hyatt.”
Some who signed the letter were unhappy when told of Clinton's decision.
“It's shameful and hypocritical that President Clinton wouldn't stand by his principles and honor two groups that he's historically supported – labor groups and gay rights,” said Brigette Browning, president of Unite Here Local No. 30, who co-signed the letter.
“I'm very surprised that he would put his corporate sponsors over basic human dignity,” she said.
Labor groups and opponents of Proposition 8, the ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in California, organized a boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt after Manchester donated $125,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign.
Manchester could not be reached Thursday.
Cleve Jones, a longtime gay-rights activist who founded the NAMES Project/AIDS Memorial Quilt, said he welcomed Clinton's help fighting Proposition 8 but was skeptical of the president's position.
“The boycott has been in effect and very well publicized since July,” said Jones, who also signed the letter. “He's had ample foreknowledge of the situation.”
Supporters of same-sex marriage plan to gather outside the hotel Sunday at 11 a.m. and remain there throughout Clinton's scheduled 12:30 p.m. speech.
A spokeswoman for the International Franchise Association said the convention was booked six or seven years ago. She said the trade group has no position on gay marriage or the planned rally.
“The boycott really is between the hotel and this group,” Alisa Harrison said. “It's not something we have a position on or that we've been involved in.”
Keynote speakers are typically booked up to a year in advance, according to Stacy Tetschner, chief executive of the National Speakers Association, a trade group for professional speakers.
Even though Clinton is a top-tier speaker likely to command a fee of $100,000 or more, he is considered a celebrity rather than a professional speaker because speaking is secondary to what he does, Tetschner said.
“More than likely, it's his handlers that accepted this rather than himself,” Tetschner said. “I don't know that the owner of a hotel's personal political beliefs or support is something they would normally research.”
McKenna said questions about when the speech agreement was reached and how much Clinton would be paid should be directed to the Harry Walker Speaking Agency, which represents the former president.
No one at the company's New York City offices answered a phone call Thursday evening.
Gay-rights leaders have also targeted other Yes on 8 contributors, including A-1 Self Storage owner Terry Caster, a San Diegan who gave almost $700,000 to the Yes on 8 campaign. Supporters of the measure say such donors are being unfairly targeted, and that opponents should accept the will of the majority.
Proposition 8 passed Nov. 4 with 52 percent of the vote, effectively overturning a May state Supreme Court ruling that permitted same-sex marriages in California.
The ballot measure has been challenged in court on multiple grounds, and oral arguments are scheduled before the state Supreme Court on March 5.
Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, a Los Angeles organization that promotes progressive political issues, said it's ironic Clinton would be involved in the debate over same-sex marriage, because Proposition 8 is being defended in court in part by Kenneth Starr, who 10 years ago built the case for impeachment against Clinton.
“Bill Clinton has done a lot of good,” said Jacobs, who also signed the open letter. But “there's a really big irony in this.”
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