Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Shameful Display Against an American Hero

I usually take the weekends off but had to write about this now. I should also state right away that John Lewis is a hero of mine. There is simply no other leader I respect more. So it is particularly disheartening to see this icon of the Civil Rights Movement treated this way by members of the Tea Party Movement. Here's the story from CNN. The next story I would like to read is a statement from those politicians who addressed this crowd before theses slurs took place condemning this language.
Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis was the target if racial slurs on Saturday.Washington (CNN) - Civil rights icon and veteran Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, said anti-health care bill protesters Saturday repeatedly yelled the "N" word at him as he left a heath care meeting and walked to the Capitol.

"I haven't seen heard anything like this in more than 40 years, maybe 45." Lewis said. "Since the march from Selma to Montgomery really."
"Yeah, but it's okay," Lewis added. "I've faced this before. So, it reminded me of the 60's. There's a lot of downright hate and anger and people are just being downright mean."

The incident was confirmed by Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indiana, who was walking with Lewis at the time. Protesters were yelling, "'kill the bill, kill the bill' and the 'N' word several times," Carson said.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, released a statement late Saturday saying he too was called the "N" word as he walked to the Capitol for a vote and that he was spat on by one protestor who was arrested by U.S. Capitol Police. Cleaver declined to press charges against the man, the statement said.

Protesters also hurled anti-gay comments at Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, who is openly gay, as he left the same health care meeting that Lewis attended in a House office building.

A CNN producer overheard the word "faggot" yelled at Frank several times in the lobby of the Longworth building. Frank said he heard someone yell "homo" at him.

"I'm disappointed," Frank said. "There's an unwillingness to be civil."

Frank, who said he rarely hears such slurs anymore, said the health care issue has become "the proxy for a lot of other sentiments. A lot of which are perfectly reasonable but some of which are kind of ugly."

Is this an exception to the rule?  Perhaps.  I'm sure there are lots of decent folks who are part of this movement.  But when the anger of the movement reaches this level, someone needs to take responsibility and address the issue.  Take a look at how this group of Tea Baggers treated a man with Parkinson's disease:


Friday, March 19, 2010

Dan Choi speaks

Here's a final entry before I sign off for the weekend.  Do we have a LGBT rights leader in the making here?

Florida does the right thing with film tax credit law

Last week I wrote about a Florida bill that would deny film companies tax credits if their films did not promote "traditional family values."  (Translation: no gay folks.)

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the tax credit bill that ultimately passed, however, struck that language following complaints from the industry and gay rights groups that the language would discriminate against gay families.

"We thank the Senate for working with us to craft a bill that can create jobs without discriminating against a segment of Florida's families,'' said Georg Ketelhohn, chairman of Florida Together, a federation of groups promoting gay and lesbian rights.

The Florida House has yet to remove the offending language from a similar bill, although it is expected to do so. The bill's backer, a Republican legislator from Orlando, said his intent was to promote wholesome family entertainment as depicted in 1960s sitcom, "The Andy Griffith Show," set in the fictional North Carolina town of Mayberry and starring a freckle-faced apple pie kid named Ronny Howard.

Lt. Dan Choi arrested in protest over DADT

It was supposed to me a polite rally sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign. Kathy Griffin was supposed to get everyone laughing. There would be chants and applause and then the crowd would leave.

But Lt. Dan Choi had something else in mind. He approached the podium and said something about this not being a joke. Then he invited the crowd to follow him to the White House fence where he and another gay man who was discharged from service because of his sexuality.

Lt. Dan Choi is tired of neat rallies and email campaigns, and he did what he thought would bring attention to the issue of DADT. It was a courageous move.

Film clip of Lt. Dan Choi's protest

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Gay soldiers responsible for massacre, says retired general

This story, reported by Voice of America, is pretty hard to take.  At the DADT hearings in Washington on Thursday, Retired US Marine General John Sheehen (left) blamed the inclusion of gays in the Dutch military for the slaughter of thousands of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995.

Senator Carl Levin (right), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, seemed confused by Sheenan's words.  According to Sheehan, after the Cold War, the Dutch, "declared a peace dividend and made a conscious effort to socialize their military.  It included open homosexuality.  That led to a force that was ill-equipped to go to war."

What Sheehan failed to remember was that the Netherlands allowed gays to serve years before the fall of the former Soviet Union.

Still, Sheehan pushed full steam ahead.  Gays had weakened the military, he said, and the 400 Dutch peacekeeping forces were unable to stop the greatest military massacre since World War II.

Here's a snippet from the exchange between Levin and Sheehan: 

SHEEHAN: "That [Srebrenica] was the largest massacre in Europe since World War II."
LEVIN: "And did the Dutch leaders tell you it was because there were gay soldiers there?"
SHEEHAN: "It was a combination ..."
LEVIN: "Did they tell you [that gay soldiers were to blame], that is my question."
LEVIN: "They did?"
SHEEHAN: "They included that as part of the problem."

After the hearings, Dutch military officials expressed astonishment at Sheehan's statement.  The spokesman for the Netherlands Ministry of Defense, Roger van de Wetering, told VOA Sheehan's assertions are "total nonsense" and that he "cannot believe that a man of that rank is stating such a thing."  According to Voice of America, van de Wetering said that he had never heard Sheehan's allegation before from any source in the Netherlands or anywhere else.

Sheehan's testimony has been out of the mainstream.  Many of the nation's top military officials and commanders -- including those who previously supported or even drafted DADT -- have urged that the policy be repealed.

You can see a clip of the hearings below.

Levin and Sheehan at the DADT hearings

A response from the Dutch government to General Sheehan's words

"I couldn't disagree more. I take pride in the fact that lesbians and gays have served openly and with distinction in the Dutch military forces for decades, including in leading operational positions, such as in Afghanistan at the moment. The military mission of Dutch U.N. soldiers at Srebrenica has been exhaustively studied and evaluated, nationally and internationally. There is nothing in these reports that suggests any relationship between gays serving in the military and the mass murder of Bosnian Muslims."

Dutch Ambassador to the U.S., Renee Jones-Bos

DADT Protest in front of the White House

Queerty has just reported that Lt. Dan Choi (left), who was dismissed from the army for being gay, has chained himself to the fence in front of the White House.  Writes the bloggers at Queerty:

So today's Human Rights Campaign rally in D.C., happening right now after the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings wrapped, was supposed to be a feel good event with Kathy Griffin. Then Lt. Dan Choi bounded on to the stage after Griffin, told her that Don't Ask Don't Tell is not a joke, and says he's going to the White House to, uh, chain himself to the fence to protest the law that might get him kicked out of the military. Tweets reporter Kerry Eleveld: "This does not sound like it was part of the HRC script." Maybe not but it was certainly planned: "According to this source, who is close to Lt. Choi, a number of people tried to talk him out of his plan. With the repeal underway and the study going full throttle, it is a delicate time in the repeal of DADT. This means that anything that could be seen as being problematic or aggrandizing or taking this issue less than seriously could bolster the position of those in opposition to the MREA and make passage that much more difficult."

I say, "Go, Dan."  We've been patient for decades.  Thanks for your courageous stand.

Some encouraging numbers...

Sara Lipka of The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported the findings of a survey of last fall's incoming freshmen in college.  The results are encouraging, but also interesting.  Note the gender difference in same-sex marriage support as well the high numbers of those students identifying with a religious group.

• Over all, 65 percent of the college freshmen surveyed last fall supported same-sex marriage.
• About a quarter of those students who consider themselves "extremely conservative" support same-sex marriage while 68 percent of students who place themselves in the political center support same-sex marriage.
• Women were 72 percent supportive compared men 57 percent of men.
• Hispanic students were 69 percent supportive, white students 65 percent supportive, and black students 53 percent supportive.
• Students who identified themselves as Jewish, Buddhist, or nonreligious were most supportive, with at least 87 percent in each group favoring legal same-sex marriage.
•Sixty-six percent of Catholic students and 58 percent of Muslim students expressed support, as did between 50 and 75 percent of students affiliated with most Protestant Christian denominations.

Numbers like these make the future look bright.

From LGBT Change...


Contact Speaker Nancy Pelosi and ask that she move the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (HR 3017) to a floor vote.  Towleroad is participating in a blog swarm today with Daily Kos, Open Left, Bilerico Project, Pam's House Blend, Joe My God, Michelangelo Signorile, Americablog, David Mixner, Daily Gotham, ...Culture Kitchen, Taylor Marsh, PageOneQ, Dan Savage, Good as You, and others.

How can you not love this kid?

A while ago I posted a video of a Will Phillips, young man who refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at school because most gay people were not allowed to marry and therefore not treated as equals.  His stance made national news, and recently GLAAD honored him with an award for his courage.  Here's his acceptance speech:

If you're going to play that game, Representative Bachmann....

Pam Spaulding over at Pam's House Blend is reporting that the always irrational Representative Michelle Bachmann (left) is calling on people to refuse to pay taxes if they don't like the health care bill that may very well pass.

How patriotic.

I started thinking: maybe I shouldn't pay taxes.  After all, my reasons are a bit more compelling than a bill that would keep millions of Americans from getting sick.

1. I am against the war.  I am against the killing of thousands of innocent people.

2. I am against churches that don't pay taxes and then spend millions in campaigns to deny LGBT people the right to marry.

3. I don't like it that billions of dollars go to war: money that could be used for education and to lift up people out of poverty.  (Oh, I forgot.  That would break the budget.)

4. I'm upset that if my husband should die, I will not get his social security benefits because the federal government doesn't recognize our marriage.  The federal government will also heavily tax whatever he leaves to me.

5. I am furious that The Patriot Act infringes on my civil liberties.

6. I am saddened that while libraries close due to budget cuts, our government decides to attack a country under under false pretenses.  Our leaders lied.

7. I shouldn't have paid taxes in 2000 when my choice for President won the popular vote but was declared the loser by activist judges.

8. I disagree with the decision of our government to support nuclear power.  I believe it is a matter if life and death.

9. I don't think I should pay taxes because, if I chose to, I could not serve in the military because of who I am.

10. Maybe I should withhold my taxes because I'm not wild about the health care bill because it doesn't contain a pubic option.  This would save more lives and lower costs for Americans.

What were you saying, Michelle?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A defeat for gay marriage foes

A few months ago, when a bill that would allow same-sex couples the right to marry came before the New York State Senate, gay leaders expected a vote of support from Hiram Monseratte (left) of Queens.  In fact, he gave his word that he would vote on our side.  But when the vote came up, Monseratte stunned everyone by voting against same sex marriage.

When Monseratte was later expelled from the senate on domestic abuse charges, a special election was called.  Monseratte decided to run for his old seat.  Gay activists and leaders such as Cynthia Nixon (remember her video from last week?) vowed to do everything in their power to defeat Monseratte by supporting a pro-equality candidate, José R. Peralta (right).  The election was in many ways a test case to see just how influential pro-gay marriage folks could be, since there are plans to target other state senators who voted against marriage equality.  As Cynthia Nixon said, "We tried the carrot.  Now it's time for the stick."

The good news is Monseratte lost Tuesday night, and lost big,  by about 3-1.  Same sex marriage was a huge issue in the election, and voters made themselves clear.  Polls have showed that a majority New York voters support same-sex marriage.  On Tuesday the voters in Queens just might have been the first of many to deny reelection to politicians who are on the wrong side of history.  A few more elections like this one, and we'll have the votes when gay marriage is again taken up by the New York State legislature.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This isn't your parents' New Hampshire

There’s a nice story at Pam’s House Blend about gay marriage in New Hampshire.

Many cities and towns in the state recently put a non-binding referendum before voters either by ballot or town meeting.  The threshold for getting the question on the ballot was as low as 25 signatures in some places.  And because there was little else of importance on the ballot -- and because the questions were barely publicized -- conventional wisdom held that only energized anti-equality voters would head to the polls. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box.  As expected, most towns passed the referendum.  However, the result was far from overwhelming.  In fact, while the question passed 53 cities or towns, 43 towns either rejected the measure or refused to vote on it.  That’s far better than we expected to do.  If the anti-equality folks had any hope of a Constitutional amendment in the near future, that hope was crushed.  If an amendment were to make it on the New Hampshire ballot, the measure would have to received support from 2/3 of the voters.  Very few towns passed the referendum by this margin.

And then there was the story of Plainville, where anti-equality folks expected an easy victory at the town meeting.  Instead, the question was rejected 185-40.  Then the voters requested the board of selectmen to write to the governor and the legislature "commending them for passing and signing into law legislation affirming marriage equality for all New Hampshire residents."


Death of a pioneer

Over the weekend Dennis Hevesi of the New York Times wrote about the death of a pioneer, Rev. Robert Carter, who was one of the first Roman Catholic priests in the country to state publicly that he was gay.  He later went on to found the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Hevesi writes that after Father Carter came out, he was visited by a subprovincial of the Jesuit order. “It seems that they were afraid I had had a psychotic break or something,” he wrote in an unpublished memoir.

Although there were calls for his expulsion by irate “Jesuits, parents and alumni of our schools,” Father Carter continued, he was not disciplined.

Back then, before the Catholic Church could blame gay men for rampant pedophilia, the church and the Jesuits were more accepting of gay people.

 In those days, the church and the Jesuit order were somewhat more accepting of gay people.  Only a few years ago the Vatican issued a document saying the church would not admit to a seminary or ordain “those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’ ”

Father Carter helped found the New York chapter of DignityUSA, a support group for gay Catholics. In 1972, with the Rev. John McNeill, he hosted the first meeting of the chapter at the Jesuit chapel on West 98th Street in Manhattan.  Because the Catholic Church wouldn’t allow meetings of Dignity on its property, Father Carter held mass in apartments around New York City.

He urged gay people, including those in Dignity, to march with him in gay pride parades.  He was also a vocal supporter of gay rights at a time when such support was quite risky.

When the Catholic authorities said Dignity could not meet on church property, Father Carter celebrated Mass in apartments all around Manhattan. He led blessing ceremonies for gay couples. He testified in support of the gay rights law proposed by Mayor Edward I. Koch before it was passed by the City Council in 1986. He urged Dignity to march in gay pride parades and marched himself, in his clerical collar.  He also dedicated much of his time caring for and counseling AIDS patients.

Father Carter was 82.

She didn't ask nor did she tell, but she was still discharged from the Air Force

Here's the sort of story that people who say DADT is working should read.  By all accounts, Jene Newsome was a model member of the Air Force.  She didn't disclose her sexual orientation to anyone she served with, nor did she let anyone know that she had married her female partner in Iowa.

Yet Jene Newsome has been discharged from the Air Force.  Why?  Last week the police in her South Dakota town came to her house looking for her wife in connection with a theft in Alaska.  While in the house, they came across their marriage certificate from Iowa.  So what did they do?  They immediately called Newsome's supervisors in the Air Force to let them know that she was a lesbian.  She was dishonorably discharged immediately.  She has joined the ACLU to file a complaint against the police department for invasion of privacy.

For his part, the police chief is defending the actions of his officers. quotes him as saying, "It’s an emotional issue and it’s unfortunate that Newsome lost her job, but I disagree with the notion that our department might be expected to ignore the licence, or not document the licence, or withhold it from the Air Force once we did know about it.”

I guess it doesn't matter that Newsome was following the odious DADT policy to the letter.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Via Good As You.

DC and Mississippi: making villains out of victims and victims out of villains

Two big LGBT stories during the last couple of weeks have been the canceling of the prom in a Mississippi high school and the Catholic Church's response to same-sex marriage in Washington, DC.  The two stories aren't just related because of LGBT interest.  In both stories there has been an attempt to make victims out of villains and villains out of victims.

How so?  Let's look at the Mississippi story first.  The school board in Itawamba canceled the senior prom rather than allow a lesbian student to attend with her female date.  What's being reported is that there will be no senior prom because a lesbian couple wants to attend.  In other words, if that couple would just back off, there would be a senior prom and folks would be happy.  The two young women have been set up as the villains here and the school board victims to their "demands."  In fact, the reason why the prom was canceled was because of bigotry and homophobia on the part of the school board.   The student who wants to attend with her girlfriend now has to deal with the hostility of her classmates who hold her responsible for the prom's cancellation.

Now let's look at DC.  The Catholic Church in that district has announced that it will no longer offer health benefits to new employees.  The reason?  Gay marriage.  The church argues that it had no choice.  (In fact, they could have used a law that would have exempted them from providing for same-sex couples, but that's another story.)  The church has created a situation similar to the Mississippi school board.  Everyone will suffer because of gay people.  In fact, it is homophobia and bigotry that has led to the withdrawal of benefits.

In both cases the powers that be have pitted straight folks against gay folks.  They are attempting to perpetuate anti-gay bigotry by creating a misleading paradigm: if only gay people would stop being demanding, straight people wouldn't suffer.  The paradigm, of course, is this: if only these institutions would stop their anti-gay policies and rhetoric, no one would suffer.

The Texas Two-Step

Most of you have probably read what’s been happening with the Texas State Board of Education.  In an attempt to present a more conservative retelling of history, the 15 member board voted for some major changes in their textbooks.  The problem is, their textbooks are the textbooks of other states, too.  Because Texas is one of the major purchasers of textbooks in the United States, its board of Education has a major in what students in other parts of the country learn, too.

Luisita Lopez Torregrosa summarizes the changes in a piece for Politics Daily.
In a matter of days last week in Austin, the majority of the 15-member board, insisting they were only trying to offset liberal bias in textbooks, questioned Darwin's theory of evolution and the constitutional principle of separation of church and state; debated hip-hop and genocide in Darfur; deleted Albert Einstein and Thomas Alva Edison from textbooks; emphasized Christian teachings and fundamentalist values; adopted conservative articles of faith like American exceptionalism; promoted right-wing leaders and organizations like Phyllis Schlafly and the National Rifle Association; and refused to give adequate attention to Hispanic and African American contributions to U.S. and Texas history.
Jeff Schneider of the Huffington Post cites at least three significant changes that we’ll see in some history or social studies texts:

1. A questioning of whether the founding fathers sought a separation of Church and State in the US Constitution.

2. The teaching of sexual identity, eating disorders, and rape as a result "choice".

3. The rejuvenation of McCarthyism.  Said one board member, "Read the latest on McCarthy -- He was basically vindicated."

4. The emphasis of how Conservatives were responsible for Civil Rights legislation.

These are just four changes.  It boggles the mind that we are now praising McCarthy, questioning whether the separation of church and state is an American value, and rewriting the history of Civil Rights.