Friday, May 14, 2010

A new letter from the front lines

May 14, 2010
President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

I am writing to you from a kitchen in the state of Washington. The love of my life is in the other room. It has been eight months since I saw him last and I cherish every moment we spend together. Next week, my mid-tour leave will be over and I will return to Iraq and finish my second deployment. I don’t know when I’ll see my partner again.

When serving in a war zone, you learn quite a bit about yourself and what’s important to you. I’ve had the chance to work on a close and personal level with the people of Iraq, and in doing so, I have realized more than ever that the freedoms we enjoy as Americans should not be taken for granted – we must protect them at all costs. These freedoms are essential to the very foundation of our society. Yet so many men and women who fight for these freedoms aren’t allotted their own. Our freedom to love and be loved by whomever we choose. The freedom to live of a life of truth and dignity.

Recently I was informed that the military was investigating me for violating the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. Another service member had apparently “outed” me. At first I felt free: I didn’t have to lie anymore. But after that initial sense of relief, I’m left knowing just how little the Pentagon and the United States government think of me.

Mr. President, my unit is extremely undermanned. We’re working around the clock in Baghdad. My commander informed me that the Army cannot afford to lose me. I was told that they would prepare my discharge paperwork, “stick it in a Manila envelope, and keep it in a desk -- for now.”

One moment they wanted to throw me out and the next they are hiding evidence to keep me in.

My comrades now know that I am gay, and they do not treat me any differently. Work runs as smoothly as ever, and frankly the only difference I see -- besides my pending job loss -- is that I am free of the burden of having to constantly watch my words and ensure my lies are believable.

Having this out in the open makes things a bit less stressful. But it’s also clear the Army is only keeping me around until they are done with me. After I have served my two deployments -- and only a year shy of separating from the military honorably -- I suspect they will kick me to the street.

It’s bad enough that there is a law that denies tens of thousands of service members from serving with integrity, but it’s even worse when such a law is carried out with such inconsistency, without any warning of when it might come down.

If my suspicions are true, my discharge will move forward after my deployment. I am good enough to serve in war, but not at peace? I will never be at peace until this law is repealed – and neither will my partner. In fact, he won’t even be informed if I am killed in action. That might be the hardest part for us both.

Mr. President, when you took office I remember watching your inauguration knowing that history was being made. I remember feeling like this weight was being lifted off of my shoulders. I truly believed in you, and I still do.

But, Mr. President, please keep your promise to me.

Please do everything in your power to help Congress repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year. Our government called upon us to fight for our country. So many of us answered the call; we did not delay. We were sent world’s away to defend your freedoms. Mr. President, won’t you fight for mine?

With deep respect,
A soldier returning to Baghdad

(The writer is currently serving and unable to identify himself publicly.)

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Son of gay parents told he cannot attend Catholic school in Massachusetts

The Associated Press has reported the following:
A Roman Catholic school in Massachusetts has withdrawn its acceptance of an 8-year-old boy with lesbian parents, saying their relationship was "in discord" with church teachings, according to one of the boys' mothers.

It's at least the second time in recent months that students have not been allowed to attend a U.S. Catholic school because of their parents' sexual orientation, with the other instance occurring in Colorado.

The Massachusetts woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns about the effect of publicity on her son, said she planned to send the boy to third grade at St. Paul Elementary School in Hingham in the fall. But she said she learned her son's acceptance was rescinded during a conference call Monday with Principal Cynthia Duggan and the parish priest, the Rev. James Rafferty.
The point here isn't to question why lesbian parents would want their child to attend a Roman Catholic school.  It's not my business.

Nor is the point whether or not churches have the right to deny admission to families because they don't adhere to Catholic doctrine.  Let the courts decide that.

The point is this: can the church get any more hypocritical?  And make sure you look at the school's motto: Partners working for God in love.

Because if you decide to deny admission to gay families because they don't live in keeping with church beliefs, then you'd better make sure that you also exclude the following families, also failing to live up to Catholic standards:

1. Children of divorced parents.
2. Children of parents who believe in capital punishment.
3. Children of parents who believe in the right to choose.
4. Children of parents who have committed adultery.
5. Children of parents who have ever lied.
6. Children of parents who have used the name of the Lord in vain.
7. Children of parents who aren't married.

And the list goes on.  As does the hypocrisy.

Some folks don't even try to hide their bigotry

Here's a quote by Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe about repealing DADT as posted on

"For those of us...and I’m one of them...who have gone through the military, gone through basic training, and you stop and think... it just doesn’t make any sense. Second of all, it’s just not working. You have women, men, then you have a third group to deal with, and they’re not equipped to do that. And you hear the stories all the time. A military guy...I happen to be Army, and Army and Marines always feel that when we’re out there, we’re not doing it for the flag or the country; we’re doing it for the guy in the next foxhole. And that would dramatically change that."

Okay.   A few points.

 1.  "You have women, men, and then you have a third group."   Hmm.  I didn't know that I gave up being a man once I came out as gay.

2. "Second of all, it’s just not working."  What isn't working is asking people to lie.  Gay people have been in the armed forces ever since we had armed forces.

3. "A military guy...I happen to be Army, and Army and Marines always feel that when we’re out there, we’re not doing it for the flag or the country; we’re doing it for the guy in the next foxhole. And that would dramatically change that."  Wow.  That sure takes the wind out of those who see enlisting in the armed forces as the highest form of patriotism.  Remember John McCain's presidential motto, "Country First"?  Wasn't this supposed to reference his own sacrifice for the United States in the Vietnam War?  If Inhofe had his way, the motto would be "Heterosexual Male Next to Me First."

Senator Inhofe, by suggesting that our troops would abandon gay soldiers on the battle field, you assume our straight soldiers are as odiously bigoted as you are.  And even worse, you disgracefully underestimate them

What should be banned on Arizona classrooms

Just when you thought it was as bad as it could get in Arizona, along comes another anti-immigrant, anti-American bill that  Governor Jane Brewer (right, far right)  signed this week.

Ethnic studies classes are now officially banned in Arizona public schools.

That's too bad because I'm sure that means you can't study the presidency before the election of Barack Obama.  I mean, what's more ethnic than over 200 years of white men?

And let's not forget the ancient Romans and Greeks.   Actually, let's forget them.  No classes on them, either.  After all, wouldn't studying Greek civilization be an ethnic studies class?

And a course on the pilgrims?  Far too ethnic, that group.

No British history, I assume.

And don't even think about a class on the Supreme Court.  With three exceptions, that group has been predominantly white.  And with four exceptions, that group has been predominantly male.

A course on the Vikings? Nope.

And let's nix that course on Arizona Governors Since Statehood.

The class on American  Authors at Sea is gone, too.  Moby Dick? The Old Man and the Sea?  Spartina? No more White Men in Boats.

And if you are even allowed to teach The Holocaust, you'll now have to give equal time to the Germans.  It's the only way to teach about ethnic cleansing when ethnic studies are illegal.

Thou shall not be permitted to study the Irish Famine.

Or the French Revolution.

The following authors, who generally wrote about one ethnic group, are now banned from the library:

         William Shakespeare
         Anton Chekov
         Eugene O'Neil
         Charles Dickens

Just to name a few.

Wait a minute.  I have it all wrong.  Now I understand what Governor Jane Brewer means by ethnic.  It's anyone who isn't a white, Christian American.  Just like she is.



Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Next stop, Minnesota?

David Joles of the Minneapolis Star Tribune is reporting on a legal challenge to Minnesota's opposite-sex marriage definition. 

Writes Joles:

Three same-sex couples from Minnesota filed a legal challenge Tuesday to a state law requiring marriage to be between a man and a woman, the same approach that led to legalized gay marriage in Iowa and other states.

The couples' main claim is that the 1997 Minnesota ban on gay marriage violates their rights to due process, equal protection and freedom of conscience and association under the state constitution.

"The joys and benefits of marriage should be available to everyone," said the couples' lawyer, Peter Nickitas, who appeared with them at a news conference after filing the suit in Hennepin County District Court. However, legal experts and even some supporters of gay marriage say the suit could harm the cause by further galvanizing state law against it.

Plaintiffs Douglas Benson and Duane Gajewski of Robbinsdale have been together 20 years and already were "married" in Vermont, California and Canada. Thomas Trisko and John Rittman of Minneapolis said they've been a couple 36 years and were married in Canada.

Jessica Dykhuis and Lindzi Campbell of Duluth cuddled their 6-month-old son Sean Campbell, who also is a plaintiff.

"We have a responsibility to raise our children to do the right thing," Dykhuis said, explaining their decision to sue.

The group, led by Benson, calls itself Marry Me Minnesota. Some like-minded people don't agree with their strategy. The gay activist group OutFront Minnesota has opposed suing for marriage rights in Minnesota.

The state Supreme Court in 1971 was the first in the country to rule against same-sex marriage. The court found that the state didn't deprive a male couple of equal protection or of liberty or property without due process .

In 1997, the Legislature passed a so-called Defense of Marriage Act to make clear its intent that marriage be between a man and a woman.
 Let's hope this goes the way of Massachusetts and Iowa.

Letters from the front line

May 11, 2010
President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

It was five months before the September 11th attacks when I found myself outside a military recruiters office signing up for the U.S. Navy.  I could no longer afford college.  And things in my personal life weren't going according to plan.  I wanted to experience life outside of southeastern Pennsylvania.  I enlisted on a random Friday in April of 2001 and left for boot camp the following Monday.  I was a recruiter's dream candidate.

My first tour of duty was the prestigious Ceremonial Guard in Washington, D.C., where I represented our country at official White House ceremonies and during state and military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

In my two-year period, I was present at more than 1500 military funerals as part of the Firing Party rendering the 21-gun salute.  It was here that I learned what truly serving our great nation really meant, and the ultimate price we all swore to pay, if fate was so.  Standing on the berm, across the river from a burning Pentagon on September 11th only solidified my desire to serve.

My desire to serve my country continued while I completed my training as a Hebrew Linguist and began working in the field at Fort Gordon, Georgia.  But I was also struggling with my own self discoveries.

In 2004, I filed paperwork annulling my marriage because I realized that I was gay.  Keeping with the Navy's core values of honesty and integrity, and very much naive to the severity of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," I provided the military with copies along with a written statement to my commander, which subsequently resulted in my discharge under the law.

I was ousted from the service I loved, facing a recoupment of $13,000 sign-on bonus I received, and ushered to the gate.  I felt shunned, broken and confused.

After a year of recovery, I received a letter recalling me back to service.  While I didn't understand why, I had an overwhelming sense of joy to return to the service I so loved.

I was sent to Kuwait for a year with the U.S. Navy Customs Battalion Romeo in 2006 where I continued to garner accolades for my service and even upped in rank, all while serving completely open.  My immediate commanders and colleges were aware that I had been discharged once under DADT and knew that I was gay, yet they supported me because I was a great sailor.

After the March 2007 comments by General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he expressed his personal views of homosexuality as "immoral," I decided to express my own personal feelings in a letter to the editor.  This resulted in my second discharge under DADT, but I was willing to accept it.

Mr. President, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" must be repealed. This law forces good people to lie, evade and mislead their fellow comrades and commanders and goes against the very core values of the military service in which we serve.  It forces undue stress in the lives of those that must hide.

With a military stretched thin between two wars, now is the time to stop discharging men and women who valiantly serve our nation, many who are in mission critical jobs.  Repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" now.

Very Respectfully,
Jason Daniel Knight
Former Petty Officer 2nd Class, U. S. Navy

A politician who is taking the lead on DADT

On Top magazine is reporting that Michigan Senator Carl Levin will include a repeal of DADT in this year's Defense Authorization bill.  In doing this he defies a Pentagon request to wait.  He also defies President's Obama's recent comments that Congress wait until the report is complete, contradicting his State of the Union promise to repeal the policy this year, since the report is not due out until sometime in December.

Writes Carlos Santoscoy:
The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman said he's prepared to include repeal language of the policy that bans gay troops from serving openly in the defense budget if he can get the votes for it. Both sides of Congress are expected to act on next year's budget this month.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen wrote to the House Armed Services Committee and urged its chairman, Missouri Representative Ike Skelton, to hold off on repeal until their study is complete.

The men said they “strongly oppose” legislating repeal before the Pentagon has completed its review of the policy due in December.

President Barrack Obama promised he would back repeal of the policy this year during his first State of the Union address in January. The president has since reversed course, saying he supports holding off on repeal until after the study is complete.

Repeal supporters have accused the president of punting repeal until 2013.

“If repeal doesn't happen this calendar year, it is unlikely to pass until after the next presidential election,” Dr. Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a group that supports repeal, said.

But Levin added that the legislation would take effect after the Pentagon has completed its review.

“What we ought to do is repeal it but make the effective date after the report,” Levin told Roll Call.

The strategy is supported by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), the largest group lobbying for repeal.

On Sunday, Howard Dean, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, called on the president to take action this year.

In an open letter released Saturday, Dean says he is in agreement with gay rights advocates who are concerned that the Department of Defense could “indefinitely delay the possibility of moving forward with the repeal of DADT until the Pentagon completes a review of the policy.”

“Americans clearly understand that if someone is brave enough to take a bullet for the USA, then they should have the same equal rights guaranteed to every American under the law – whether they are serving in the military, or when they come home,” he added.

Laura Bush comes out for gay marriage

Book Review of Blood Strangers: A Memoir

Here's a link to my book review of Blood Strangers for Edge Publications.

Blood Strangers Review

Maryland and marriage rights

There's some good news coming out of Maryland this week.  Support for same-sex marriage now leads the opposition.  Many news outlets covered the story, but here's the story from Ms. Magazine:

A Washington Post poll released today and conducted between May 3rd and 6th shows increased support for same-sex marriage by Maryland voters. 46 percent of respondents favored same-sex marriage, 44 percent opposed, and 10 percent had no opinion, according to the Washington Post. An identical poll question in 2007 found 44 percent in support and 51 percent opposed.

The new poll also found that 55 percent of respondents support recognizing same-sex marriages performed out of state, while 38 percent are opposed. Maryland state Attorney General Douglas Gansler released an opinion in February stating that Maryland should recognize marriages of same-sex couples performed out-of-state. The ruling (see PDF) does not have the weight of law, but is considered a guideline for state officials. Gansler wrote, "The Court of Appeals would start from the general principle that a marriage that is valid in the place of celebration remains valid in Maryland. There is an exception to that rule if the particular marriage is contrary to a strong State public policy...While the matter is not free from all doubt, in our view, the Court is likely to respect the law of other states and recognize a same-sex marriage contracted validly in another jurisdiction."

According to the Associated Press, Maryland law does not specifically address the validity of same-sex marriages performed out of state, but does define marriage as being between one man and one woman. In 2007, the Maryland state Supreme Court upheld a state law banning same-sex marriage in a 4-3 decision, claiming that the ban does not discriminate on the basis of gender and does not deny any fundamental rights as guaranteed by the constitution

Civil unions are currently legal in Maryland and five other states (Colorado, Wisconsin, Maine, New Jersey, and Washington). Same sex marriage is currently legal in five additional states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont) and the District of Columbia. Legislation to legalize same sex marriage was recently defeated in New York and New Jersey. Proceedings are still underwayin the trial that will decide whether California's Proposition 8, the November 2008 ballot initiative that overturned the right of same-sex marriage in the state, is constitutional. 
Media Resources: Washington Post 5/11/10; Feminist Daily Newswire 9/19/07, 2/25/10, 4/30/10; Associated Press 2/25/10

Should we be concerned about Elena Kagan?

Some of the criticism surrounding the nomination of Elena Kagan has been downright cruel and unabashedly bigoted.  Keep in mind that Kagan has never discussed her sexual orientation publicly, so no one in the public sphere knows who she is.  And that's her perrogative.  Here are a few samples:

"One qualification for public office is personal character, and nothing speaks to character more than the choices one makes when it comes to sexual conduct. Bill Clinton convinced an entire generation of America's youth that oral sex isn't really sex, and as a result we've seen an explosion among millenials in cancers of the throat and head caused by the HPV virus, which is spread through oral-genital contact…. Social conservatives must rise up as one and say no lesbian is qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. Will they?"

---Bryan Fischer of the anti-gay American Family Association

"If Kagan is practicing immoral sexual behavior, it reflects on her character as a judicial nominee and her personal bias as potentially one of the most important public officials in America. The popular mantra — even among conservatives — is that Kagan’s sexuality is ‘irrelevant.’ …Besides, in an era of ubiquitous pro-gay messages and pop culture celebration of homosexuality, it’s ridiculous that Americans should be left guessing as to whether a Supreme Court nominee has a special, personal interest in homosexuality.  Given the important homosexual-related issues coming before the Supreme Court , Kagan should say so if she has a personal interest in lesbianism.

---Peter  LaBarbera of Americans for Truth

But here's the problem: Kagan has made public some of her views on gay marriage.  She has stated that there is no Constitutional Right for same-sex marriage.  (We don't know whether she feels that the Constitution implies such a right.)  And she wrote a memo to then President Clinton urging him to support very limited access to late-term abortions.  So on at least two hot-button issues, Kagan has no demonstrated a liberal bias.  (She did make waves when she refused to allow ROTC to recruit on campus when she was Dean of Harvard Law School, saying that DADT violated the school's anti-discriminatory policy.)

Despite this record, the right wing is going nuts.  And guess what?  They are smart to do so, although the homophobia that characterizes some of the criticism is far beyond the parameters of acceptable discourse.  While the Democrats try to find cozy compromises, the Republicans will have none of it.  Remember health care?  Think how different that debate would have been if the Single Payer had been serioulsy pushed.  Maybe the public option would have been seen as centrist.

We don't have many "far left" politicians to broaden the spectrum.  So everything keeps moving to the right. If Kagan replaces Stevens on the Court, the court will shift to the right because thus far she has not demonstrated the progressive credentials of the retiring judge.  When was the last time a Republican president nominated a "centrist" candidate?  It just doesn't happen.  As Rachel Maddow said the other night, the Supreme Court hearings have become a discussion between the right wing and the middle.  It's all about proving how conservative you are.  The liberals go into hiding, so middle-of-the road becomes the new liberal.  And that only leaves room to move to the right.

The Republicans push conservative ideologues while the Dems push more centrist consensus builders.  And that leaves the progressive wing of the party out in the cold.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Betty White Skit on SNL

 This was a highlight of Saturday night's show.

God steps in....

Okay.  Here's letter (via Right Wing Watch) from a far right religious group that puzzles me.  If, in fact, their prayers to God stopped the Times Square bombing, does that mean he could have stopped 9/11 but didn't?  And what would that say about such a God that would allow such suffering?  (By the way, the prayer day described was a complete flop.  A few hundred people at the most showed up, when they were expecting close to 10,000.)

John McCain continues his unprincipled campaign

Remember: John McCain used to be a Republican with moderate views on immigration.  Now he's stooped so low that he uses the word "illegals" and plays on fears of murder and home invasion.  How much soul does he have left to sell?

Betty White on Saturday Night Live

 As The New York Times said, "It took an 88 year old woman to invigorate a 35 year old show."  Here the monologue:

Will someone please step in and take the lead here?

This is getting ridiculous.  We need someone  to say "DADT is over.  Period."  Instead we get anonymous polling as reported in this story from The Advocate:

Army Secretary John McHugh announced authorities are considering a system to allow soldiers to anonymously submit their views on gays serving openly in the military.

"We're trying to do this in the quietest way possible, and by that, I simply mean not to sensationalize it, to try to really assess the soldiers' opinions," McHugh said at Hawaii's Schofield Barracks, according to the Associated Press "Anonymity, of course, is an important aspect."

The Defense Department's recommendation on implementing the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" is expected to be delivered by December 1. Due to the current law, soldiers cannot speak candidly about their sexual orientation without facing the risk of discharge.

McHugh made the announcement with Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, who expressed his support of the ban on gay troops in a March 8 letter to Stars and Stripes newspaper.

"I suspect many service members, their families, veterans, and citizens are wondering what to do to stop this ill-advised repeal of policy that has achieved a balance between a citizen's desire to serve and acceptable conduct," Mixon wrote. 
He reportedly did not say anything at Friday's announcement.
One thing I still don't understand.  If DADT is to be repealed this year, as promised by the President, why the need for surveys to see if it should be repealed?