Saturday, December 29, 2007

Town DC fills in disco gap left by Velvet Nations

Note: I finally took a picture of the Town DC Club (Jan. 8). The rest of the posting follows as I wrote it in December.

Last night, I visited Town DC, the new gay disco in Cardozo, at 8th and U Sts NW in Washington DC, near Nellie’s and a few blocks from the Lincoln Theater, where Reel Affirmations as had its LGBT film festivals in October each year. It is near Howard University and considered to be located in the rapidly re-gentrifying (and now expensive) Shaw area. (Metropolitan Community Church is about a half mile away.) It is nearest the U-Street/Cardozo Metro stop and the African-American Civil War Memorial. There is some concern that Metro train service after midnight on weekends may be terminated some time in 2008. There is on-site secured parking for a fee, and on-street parking in the area, especially as one goes north above V and W Streets.

Town DC fills a void left by the closing of the Velvet Nations club in July 2005, which hosted a large gay disco party every Saturday night. That club was closed because of real estate, office and condominium development in the half mile or so north of the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium along the Anacostia River. The development is itself controversial since low income residents have been driven out of the area, often to Prince Georges County. The gay press has reported a lot on the displacement of many clubs. The Town seems to be the first major business that has re-emerged, and its ownership derives from the ownership of the Nation, which had promised that it would aggressively seek a new property when it was forced to close.

The Club hopefully represents a new trend, of modern, clean upscale clubs in previously rundown areas that are now being rapidly re-developed with renovated or new or renovated residences and offices, as is true of U-street. (The subprime crisis could slow down this redevelopment in many cities.) There is no reason in principle why the Club could not have been established near the new stadium (depending on the complicated and politicized DC zoning rules). There are two levels. The lower level has a small drag show stage in a “bullpen” with an elevated deck to the left. The upper level has a full-sized dance floor. Both levels have bars, with Disney-like Cinerama landscape videos (of the Oregon coast) unfolding behind them. The club opens Friday and Saturday nights, with Friday admitting 18-20 (no alcohol). Both evening have two 45-minute drag shows around 9:30 and 11, some of them with Miss Lena Lett. At the 9:30 show last night, the performers engaged the audiences with jokes, and invited the dancers (headed upstairs) to preview themselves. She invited one GW student, “Ben” up to the stage and stuck a tip under his shirt, when he said he needed $50000 for tuition. She missed an opportunity for a joke here: “Ben” is the “victim” (??) in the recent gay short horror film “Bugcrush” from Strand that is all the rage on Logo. (Remember Willard?)

The biggest drag show stage that I am familiar with is the Gay 90s in Minneapolis. The nearby Saloon has a wide-angle dance floor with three elevated platforms that would the dance hall to wide-screen filming some day.

Pictures: MCC Atlanta in the Pride Parade 2004; Howard University Hospital, and Lincoln Theater, in Washington, both near the Club.

Update: July 12, 2008

Last night, Town had a raffle for Washington Nationals tickets. Yes, the dancers worked the crowd to sell them, and one guy, still in sports shirt, "got it" on the stage. But nobody seemed to be interested in looking up how the Nats were doing Friday with cell phone Internet. Despite their decimation with injuries, they won their most lopsided victory of the season last night 10-0 against the Astros. The Nats did have a "gay day" on June 23 in an interleague game that the Nats lost to the Los Angeles Angels, 3-2.

Friday, December 21, 2007

ING gets top rating from HRC Equality Index

ING, a global financial services company headquartered in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, with US operations in Atlanta (also Minneapolis and Hartford) received the top rating from HRC's Equality Index for the second year in a row.

The Corporate Equality index rates 519 large companies a year on how well they treat GLBT employees, on "like non-discrimination policies, diversity training and benefits for domestic partners and transgender employees." The press release is here.

In the United States, ING has grown by acquiring a number of other insurance companies, including ReliaStar in Minneapolis (in 2000), which itself had acquired USLICO Corporation in Arlington, VA in 1995. USLICO had been built around United Services Life, which had specialized in selling life insurance to military officers. USL had always been a major competitor of USAA, a large insurance company in Texas selling many different kinds of insurance military personnel.

I was working for USLICO as an individual contributor computer programmer when it was acquired in 1995. At the same time, the debate about the military ban (the 1993 military "don't ask don't tell" policy) was going on, and I was making plans for my book. I applied for and received a new position within the company in Minneapolis starting in September 1997. I left the company (with a retirement and layoff at the same time during downsizings related to economic turbulence in 2001) at the end of 2001. This all is visible on my resume site.

I visited Amsterdam on my on vacations twice, in 1999 and 2001, but never did visit the worldwide headquarters. The futuristic "House" that headquarters the company can be viewed here. The upside-down design resembles that of the well known Nemo Museum downtown, which I have visited. When you land at Schipol in the morning after flying into the time zones from the states (missing the night in the summer) and head for the double decker blue and yellow Dutch trains, you see ING Orange and lions everywhere (no, it looks different from the MGM lion).

First Picture: where I worked in Arlington until 1997. Second picture: Atlanta Pride, 2004 (ING-US is headquartered in suburban Atlanta). Third picture: Ads at Metro Center in Washington DC Feb. 2008

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Foreign Service: resignation over partner safety

Although the military gay ban is the most obvious example of discrimination in specialized employment now, other areas remain. The Washington Blade, on p 1 Dec. 14, 2007 carried a story "Gay ambassador retires in protest: Guest criticizes Rice, claims State Dept. rules put partner in danger," by Lou Cbibbaro Jr., link here. The US Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest resigned over concerns about his partner's treatment. He claimed that pets get better treatment than gay partners. The government, of course, is answering by simply interpreting the laws as passed by Congress very literally. Culturally, there is a tendency for people to believe that both members of a same-sex couple are self-sufficient and do not need benefits; but in fact many heterosexual couples start out that way until having children.

Romania, as a country, has undergone enormous changes since the fall of Communism, now being perceived as a major location for making films ("Cold Mountain") and a source of important culture, especially folk music. Ciacescu was one of the most brutal dictators during Communist times, leaving behind orphaned children who still demand attention from international adoption efforts. Ambassadorship to the country is obviously an important function. The language is a Romance language similar to Italian.

Chibbaro has covered Guest's job in Romania before, such as in the Blade on July 2, 2004, with "Gay ambassador assailed by Romanian newspaper: Gay, State Department, Romanian president praise Michael Guest," link here.

One of the most obvious areas of concern for GLBT people is security clearances. Frank Kameny has reported on radio talk shows (as Scott Peck 's in 1993) that the situation for civilians has been much better since about 1990, and especially after the first Persian Gulf War. President Clinton addressed the issue with an Executive Order in 1995. One situation that could occur is if, with a same-sex couple, one member was active in the Armed Forces, and the other was a civilian with a compartmentalized security clearance, where openness is essential. This has been one of the most serious holes in the DADT policy from a national security perspective. It sounds like the stuff of novels (such as a manuscript of mine, right here on my own hard drive, and backed up, of course).

Picture: Nellie's, a sports bar at 9th and U St. NW Washington, site of the Reel Affirmations parties and of an SLDN Army-Navy game party on Dec 1 (when the flags were on the Mall).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

CBS 60 Minutes to cover "don't ask don't tell" Dec 17

CBS 60 Minutes is scheduled to air a report on the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy on Sunday Dec 18 at 7 PM EST. The CBS schedule for Sunday Dec 18 does not appear to have an NFL football game that would delay the start of "60 Minutes" as often happens. The main link for the show is this.

There is a preview 2 minute "Reporter's Notebook" segment by Leslie Stahl on the CBS website now. The story is "Military Soft On Don't Ask, Don't Tell? 60 Minutes: Is Military More Tolerant Of Gay Members In Wartime?" and the link, which the visitor can watch right now, is here.

SLDN plans to have a gathering in Washington DC to view the event, at the Duplex Diner, at 2004 18th St. NW., near U St.

Update: Dec. 16

The program did indeed hit pretty hard. One gay soldier has pictures from a vacation of his intimacy with his lover in his Army personnel files, but because his commander badly needs his skills (as a medic), his required "investigation" said "no evidence of homosexual conduct." Congressman Duncan Hunter said that the policy is necessary because one cannot force soldiers with moral or religious objections to bond to gays. Stahl asked why this didn't apply in 1948 with blacks, and the interview stalled. Other militaries in NATO accept open gays, and the British Navy now allows sailors to march in Gay Pride parades in uniform. Hunter seems to feel that other countries do not fulfill the role of the United States in military operations, an idea that could insult NATO allies. A lesbian who had left the Air Force and become a commercial airline pilot pointed out that the AF had thrown away two million dollars training her. (That could bring up the recoupment issue.) The example set by Sparta (ancient Greece) was mentioned, any supposedly Spartan culture was very homoerotic. Of course, neither Spartan or for that matter Athenian society would be emulated today.

Update: Dec 26

I created a related posting on my "retirement blog" that deals with the loss of retirement benefits if a servicemember is forced out under DADT. Included is another SLDN story, back from 2002 at Fort Bragg, NC, about the Army selectively keeping people who "violate" DADT.

Update: January 8, 2008

Andrea Stone has a story in US Today, Jan. 7 (published on AOL Jan. 8), "Many troops openly gay, group says," link here. Even though Sgt. Darren Manzella outed himself on CBS 60 Minutes in December 2007, he has heard nothing at his command. The story reports a growing list of soldiers who have told other soldiers or their commanders (while deployed) but who have not been discharged. A poll of about 50000 on AOL showed 75% accepting the idea of gays serving openly in the military, and 71% believing that "don't ask don't tell" is a failure.

Update: July 12, 2008

SLDN reports that Darren Mazella has indeed been discharged under "Don't Ask Don't Tell," in the aftermath of his December 2007 "self-outing" on CBS "60 Minutes." The press release story is here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gay teachers: age, theory and practice (mine, at least)

“Veterans” of gay civil rights history remember the Briggs Initiative in California in 1978. That would have banned gays from teaching jobs in a manner a bit like today’s “don’t ask don’t tell” for the military. Voters turned it down, and the then governor Ronald Reagan even rejected it. Other initiatives have sometimes been tried in other states, such as in Washington in 1986 or (by implication) Oregon in 1992. As an aside, it’s well to note that Florida’s ban on gay adoptions harkens back to the backlash started by Anita Bryant back in 1977.

Today, sometimes gay teachers cause stirs when they attract public attention, as with marriage ceremonies. The net affect of all of this could be to make school board curriculum battles over including balanced education on sexual orientation (such as a recent struggle in Montgomery County, MD) moot point. There is so much on the Internet that kids may find (sometimes written by teachers on their own dime) that they will get the information anyway. Safer to get it in the classroom in a supervised setting. The established media have long been forcing the issue, now with stage productions of Christopher Marlowe's controversial "Edward II" which many high school seniors will want to read for "book reports."

In 2006, I squared off on the question of gay issues in high school curricula in a book “Teenage Sexuality” (edited by Ken R. Wells) in Greenhaven Press ‘s “Opposing Viewpoints” series, discussion here. I supported the idea of formal instruction on both ethical and pragmatic grounds, and presented my account of the “culture wars” examined on these blogs. I was opposed by Linda P. Harvey, who said some pretty horrible things about people with “homosexual feelings” around children. (She’s right in saying that homosexuals sometimes seem to place a disproportionate effort on looking after themselves instead of others and dependents.)

Where this all leads is a zigzag of non-linear thinking. In the middle 1990s, I decided to become very public in tackling the military “don’t ask don’t tell,” using by own story which has its ironies. After my 2001 “forced retirement” I became more aware of career switcher programs and of the demand for teachers. At this point, I had to consider a number of practical realities.

For one thing, I could spend a lot of money on licensure certification and not get a job because of the “political climate” (especially in Virginia) in conjunction with the attention that I attract. So the “threat” of discrimination compounds the issue: I have to behave like my own insurance company here. Second, disadvantaged students are likely not to respect me as an authority figure because their social culture tells them they don’t have to (if the legal system says that I am not fully “equal” because I can be kept out of the military, marriage, and sometimes parenting responsibilities). That is exactly what I encountered as a sub. Ironically, good students are likely to respect me more in most cases. But the demand is on the needy end.

There is an additional complication, that in one case some material I had written (a fictitious scenario set up as a screenplay) caused a lot of issues when it was found by search engines and taken out of context (with respect to other materials “around it”), the “implicit content” problem that we are having to deal with on the Internet. One point that I raised in that writing is still unclear: if the government can make an issue of “forced intimacy” with its DADT policy for the military, is there a potential legal issue if an “open” homosexual gives intimate care to a disabled student without “legal consent”? That point, when I raised it, was disturbing to school officials.

There is another practical problem, as I outlined on my main blog Tuesday (Dec 11) and have discussed before. I spent decades living in a “separate world” that did not require attention to children. (In fact, on one assignment I was actually ambushed when I got there to find that it was “child care”). All in all, I have no desire, at age 64, to become an AARP-HRC poster man and fight the circumstances just to prove that I personally can overcome the discrimination. I don't get the benefit of the doubt.

Had I never entered the public debate (on DADT and then COPA) and kept a low profile, could I have made the switch comfortably? I don't know. The political climate would still have become an issue, as well as my years of "urban exile," and I would have had to depend on organized lobbyists to fight for my rights, an anathema to me.

Were I of college age, however, I would feel completely differently about this. I would have no discomfort at all as a gay man in education with responsibilities for younger students if the culture I lived in placed me in circumstances where I had these responsibilities and I acclimated to them. I still must live with the old chestnuts (as Dick Cheney once called them) of earlier, differently challenged generations.

First picture: bus stop in Minneapolis; singles sought for adoption and foster care.
Second picture: My Praxis results in Math. (159, passing in VA)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Huckabee -- a real danger for GLBT people?

The Washington Post has an editorial about Mike Huckabee, "HIV Clueless, What Mike Huckabee hasn't learned" on p A20 of today's Dec. 11 paper, link here.

In literature exams you support things with quotes, and that idea applies here. Huckabee once said "f the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague. . . . It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents."

And, Oh (like in a Dick and Jane reader) he would say it in a more kind and gentle way today: "when we didn't know as much as we do now about AIDS, we were acting more out of political correctness than we were about the normal public health protocols that we would have acted -- as we have recently, for example, with avian flu. . . . There was also the case of Kimberly Bergalis, who testified before Congress in 1991. She had contracted AIDS from her dentist." Yes, I recall how the Right tossed around the phrases "the dental chain" and "the food chain."

The Post goes on to point out that the Bergalis incident came out later, in 1992, after Magic Johnson had identified himself as positive, and that it was an aberration.

In the mid 1980s, when I was living in Dallas, fearmongers like Paul Cameron and Gene Antonio -- and the notorious "Dallas Doctors Against AIDS" who tried to push for a draconian strengthening then of pre-Bowers Texas sodomy laws -- would speculate about the idea of HIV mutating and becoming casually contagious. By that reasoning, gay men had, through a "Direct Current" "chain letter", "amplified" a previously unknown virus. Of course, it didn't take gay men to amplify it in Africa, and if it changed contagion it would probably change character and become a much less lethal disease (most viruses become less virulent as they spread) and, along the way, become a common STD for heterosexuals -- moving both ways.

The CDC and federal officials were pretty circumspect in allaying rumors in the 1980s (with the exception of a infamous Fauci editorial in 1983 when he ran at the mouth about the possibility of household transmission, well before HTLV-III was identified -- all documented in Randy Shilts 's "And the Band Played On"). Somewhere in all of this, a major gay magazine (The Advocate) had a fictitious picture of a vigorous looking young man behind a barbed-wire quarantine fence, and New York Native editor Charles Ortleb ran scary editorials, like "exposing Mathilda Krim." By about 1986, gay activists may have had good reason to scream "Don't take the test!"

Of course, what's going to be tough now is reconciling this with all the scare talk about TB and Avian influenza, different beasts in epidemiology. We isolate people with drug resistant TB against their will -- even though in practice TB is actually very hard to transmit (HIV positive persons are more susceptible). And we speculate that avian influenza (bird flu) will become transmissible among humans, given enough time for random mutations in H5N1 (or H7N3 as in the movie "Pandemic"). In practice, the likelihood of a real "mega-disaster" like this seems slight, because viruses typically become less lethal as they spread and adapt to their hosts (although we don't know what really happened with the 1918 flu).

All of this has to be understood, of course, in a background where we have long understood that certain infections (HIV, Hepatitis B and C) are transmitted only by direct blood contact, and others start out as airborne. (Eloba is a bit of a mystery, with all of the speculations about suddenly airborn "Ebola Reston" in 1989 from Preston's Hot Zone). Some, like MRSA (the latest scare in schools) seem to require skin contact. This morning, the Post also had a story by Rob Stein (p A01) about an unusual adenovirus, "Virus Starts Like a Cold But Can Turn Into a Killer," here. The planet is a dangerous place, and yet in practice "History Channel" catastrophic changes in things like this are extremely rare.

In the mid 1990s, I knew a middle aged man who said he was HIV positive and still had normal T-cell counts, despite the fact that his lover had died of AIDS back in 1982, fourteen years earlier. Even now, with the slow efforts on vaccine trials, there is so much about the virus that remains a mystery. We're not sure that it necessarily is always fatal for everyone. Some people seem to resist it.

As for Huckabee, it is not comforting that he is making gains in Iowa and South Carolina. Giuliani will probably give everyone a fair shake, being open to lifting the gay ban. Huckabee could force things backwards.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

HRC hosts conference with SLDN this morning on how to end DADT

This morning, the Human Rights Campaign held a community forum on efforts to end "don't ask don't tell" in its first floor public meeting room. The meeting was moved to 9 AM so that everyone could go to the Army-Navy game party at Nellie's sports bar at noon (9th and U NW Washington, also the site for the parties from the Reel Affirmations festival this year -- I reminded then that Joe Steffan -- an early plaintiff against the ban -- had sung the National Anthem at the Army Navy game when he was a midshipman at the Naval Academy in the 1980s). There were about forty people present.

There were several speakers from HRC, SLDN, Log Cabin Republicans, and gay veterans groups. The general impression left was that the Marty Meehan bill to repeal DADT has a good chance to be passed eventually, but will take intense effort, possibly for several years. Even with the success of the 2006 mid term elections, Democratic support for lifting the ban will not be sufficient without some help from more "progressive" Republicans. Media accounts -- especially in military papers -- tend to spin the issue as one of concern to "gay activists" and that dilutes support from mainstream America. Congressmen need to know about support for lifting the ban in their own specific districts. Members of Congress tend to fear controversy (especially the angry kind that they remember from 1993) as undermining practical re-election prospects.

The military ban is, in a practical political sense, a bit different from other gay rights issues in that right now there does not seem to be a lot of organized effort to oppose attempts to lift the ban, whereas there has been intense organized lobbying from evangelicals and "conservatives" and "pro family lobbies" to oppose gay marriage and sometimes even gay civil unions (and gay adoptions).

One can differ with this assessment, however, if one looks at a longer view of history and of interconnected issues. Imagine how the debate could go if the draft were reinstated, which may not be probable (Bush has practically instituted a "backdoor draft" with Guards and Reserves), but some strong national service program is likely, and the capability of gays to work in conditions of "forced intimacy" -- especially overseas in primitive conditions with authoritarian or religious (like Muslim) societies could come back again as an ugly (and as I said from the audience, "malignant") argument that can spread to civilian areas. I did make this point from the audience.

In fact, the speakers did note that, while the presidential candidates right now are definitely split on this issue along partisan lines, once there are nominees they will have to move toward the center and may be less able to get away with superficial and embarrassing answers to questions on the ban like those given by Republican candidates in front of Anderson Cooper at CNN's YouTube debates in Florida this week. In particular, while the GOP says it would be dangerous to change the policy during "war time" in is during war that discharges drop rapidly. It seems that the "presence of gays" is detrimental to unit cohesion in peacetime but not so much in combat deployments. It also seems that the skill levels of the British and Israeli militaries, which have lifted their bans, are inconsequential.

Sharra E. Greer, Esq., from SLDN talked about the free speech issues for servicemembers, and these are laid out in SLDN's "Survival Guide." Generally, servicemembers must be out of uniform and be very clear that they are speaking for themselves, and must not disclose their own personal sexuality. The Internet (with search engines enabling commanders to find self-outings by servicemembers on line) has led to many discharges. Also, members of some foreign militaries (especially Britain) have been told not to discuss the American "don't ask don't tell" publicly because of what are perceived to be adverse political risks in international coalitions deployed overseas. That's interesting.

Greer mentioned the two cases in the First and Ninth Circuits, again challenging the constitutionality of DADT, despite the losses at the appellate levels in the 1990s (it would normally take one win in an appeals court to get a hearing before the Supreme Court). She indicated that the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision on sodomy laws (in the civilian world) may change the constitutional landscape. It should be noted, however, that the Lawrence ruling does not by itself overturn UCMJ 125, which is still legally in effect (SLDN reference).

Later today, I went down to the Mall to see the 12000 Flags. They are all in one area immediately east of 14th street. In daylight, they are easy to see from the Smithsonian Metro Station (I could not see them at night at all). I had used up my disk space on my preferred camera, so I used the single-use camera that will have to be developed. I asked a few visitors posing for pictures among the flags if they knew what the flags meant, and they didn't, so I told them. They had thought this was a 9/11 exhibit.

Update: 12/02

There was a brief Chaplain's service on the Mall Sunday Morning, as the gathering fought off a little sleet from a winter storm that had drifted farther south than predicted, but well before the heavy rains due that afternoon with the warm front. I got the flag pictures on the diskette digital camera, though without sun.

In 1993, early in the debates on the ban spawned by Clinton's proposal, I happened to attend a service at the Naval Academy chapel, and a female chaplain gave a sermon called "Come and See" (based on doubting Thomas, as I remember). In 1968, while in Army Basic, I met the base chaplain and got to play the organ for a couple of services in April (right after the King assassination). Funny how these long memories come back.