Thursday, July 31, 2008

FL: GLSEN wins major school case in South Florida


A federal judge (K. Michael Moore) ruled July 29 that Okeechobee High School in Florida must allow a Gay Straight Alliance the same access it allows all other non-curricular clubs. Moore found that allowing access to such clubs does not interfere with abstinence-only “health” education programs.


GLSEN (Gay, Lesbianm Straight Education Network) has a 2007 research brief: “Gay-Straight Alliances: Creating Safer Schools for LGBT Students and their Allies” here.

The link for GLSEN’s story on this matter is here.

Lake Okeechobee is in southern Florida. The town of Belle Glade is on it, and was controversial in the mid 1980s because of the incidence of AIDS there; I visited the town in August 1986. The lake appears in Zora Hurston’s novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (often read in high school English classes) which Oprah Winfrey made into a TV movie.

Another important GLSEN story from May 13 is that Maryland has become the seventh state to include sexual orientation and gender identity in its school anti-bullying program.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" turns into a personal moral litmus test for at least one civilian (Me)


Since my mainline “information technology” career experienced its cardiac arrest in December 2001 and I “retired”, I have sometimes been approached about getting into job situations where I would “function” as a role model for other disadvantaged male youths, or pretend to be a “family man” to be a professional and, I’m afraid, social checkpoint for other families needing some sort of crutch. This has occurred in several ways. In many cases, I’m not giving the details on this post, but I want to state for the record again how I feel about this sort of thing.

As I’ve detailed before, when I grew up I had difficulty “competing” with other boys in pursuits expected of males, and my father made a lot of my disinclination to perform chores mechanically the right way. Although we would suspect that some of this has a biological or “brain wiring” basis, at the time (in the 1950s) it took on a “moral” aspect. Young men had to “pay their dues” to earn the future freedom as adults. And, in some ways, frankly I did not. I have a feeling, in hindsight, that I could have tried harder to overcome what seemed then like a moral deficit.

When the issue of “gays in the military” exploded in 1992-1993, I saw this problem as one that indirectly affected all gays. Remember, I had been expelled from a civilian college in 1961 over homosexuality, and some of the “rationale” seemed to be similar to reasons being given to justify the ban then –- although there is more to it than just “privacy in the dorms (and barracks).” I had come of age (in a Cold War, Vietnam, and “Dominoes Theory” era) when men were drafted and “sacrificed” and when all kinds of almost eugenic rationalizations were invented to “morally” justify student deferments. This was one of the leading “moral issues” of my day, and it seems that the public today has largely lost sight of it, although it does come up with discussions of national service and the Bush “back door draft” for the war in Iraq. Ironically, despite my civilian expulsion based partly on military-style rationale, I actually got drafted and “served “in the Army 1968-1970, but was “sheltered” from combat “risk” and remained stateside.

The issue, for men, was whether “unconventional men” (to invent a generic, if colorless term) “did their part” in a manner necessary to justify their continued freedom--and their own individual place in a competitive world that must accept unequal outcomes as to wealth and "station in life". I did not grow up with the idea that personal freedom was guaranteed. It is spelled out, in theory, in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (and various other Amendments, especially the 14th) . But freedom, or at least “life, liberty and property” could be taken away by force from those who either have the capability to use force, or who feel so aggrieved by “the system” that they act with violence, often asymmetrically, in an environment where law and government are not able to maintain stability. As a “moral debate” item, this whole phenomenon, apparent since 9/11, has become more important. It is important, then, to be able to participate in sharing the responsibility for the defense of freedom. Remember, right after 9/11, both military sociologist Charles Moskos and Senate Armed Services Committee chair Carl Levin were quick to propose reinstating the draft.

The “old ban” (before “don’t ask don’t tell”) effectively meant that homosexuals (open or not) did not have the ability to serve in the military legally. In a moral climate where burdens must be shared as I personally experienced in the 1950s and 60s, then homosexuals do not have equal rights and sometimes their resources might be expropriated to meet the needs of others. This, in a nutshell, is why the “Ban” became so important to me. At first, I actually thought a “kinder and gentler” kind of “don’t ask don’t tell” would “work” (this is something in the spirit of what Rand Corporation proposed in 1993 in a million dollar study). We know that in many parts of the Armed Forces the “new” 1993 DADT policy actually increased the incidence of witchhunts, at least until the deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq post 9/11. The overall concept, of keeping personal matters quiet, tended to spread to other ideas of society, where now there is a controversy over how teachers behave on the Internet.

Over the past fifteen years I’ve noticed a relatively undiscussed but growing tension among those who have and those who do not have children. Part of the tension gets expressed as a moral question about how responsibilities are shared, and sometimes leads to unequal duties for the same pay in the workplace. A certain segment of the “interventionist” crowd quietly prepares to exploit this tension, proposing the “village” model for raising children and suggesting that “other people’s children” (“OPC”) is everyone’s responsibility. (This crosses liberal and conservative lines for various reasons.)

As far as I’m concerned, from a moral perspective, all this ups the ante on “equal rights” along with “equal responsibilities”. You got it, that’s how the whole gay marriage argument unfolds, and then gay adoption and custody behind it. I understand the principled (if “ideological”) argument that maintains that full marriage rights, even in and are equal, and that domestic partnership or civil union is not enough. (That calls to mind Chris Crain’s famous “Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve” Washington Blade editorial on March 12, 2004; I’ve never bothered to give the link, so here it is.

Nevertheless, it is the military ban problem that I relate to personally, because of the incidents during my own “coming of age” period. To me, it all marches across my imagination and unfolds like an Oliver Stone movie. And it brings me back to some of the personal challenges in recent years that others have posed for me. While I don’t want to detail them right here, others (reflecting a kind of Confucian ethic even in western society) propose to me the notion that I should drop my public insertion of myself into all of these political matters, and simply change course and devote myself to pretending I can “be a man” in front of other families and especially OPC (“other people’s children”). That’s the best I can settle for. Maybe I could even be an “economic hit man” along the way. I would have to live publicly (that is, "live the life") for the purposes and moral direction defined by others. Since I did not “pay my dues” properly as a youngster, I lost the right to do that for myself, so the moral groupthink goes.

Of course, I have to say no to this. It’s not funny to be asked, at the age of 60 or so, to be asked to parade on the deep end of a swimming pool in front of special ed kids. (I’ll be explicit about that incident.) I’ve said, on my websites and blogs, that in this political climate, with DADT on the books and with the air of hostility in a lot of right wing literature, no, I don’t want to be exposed to the possibility of giving custodial care to other people’s kids. I think there’s an indirect legal risk, although I know that even SLDN has acknowledged that the DADT was worded to keep itself limited to the military. I said that online while I was substitute teaching and, yes, it did cause a “big problem”. Furthermore, I don’t want to “play family” to appease other people’s sensibilities. The fact is, I didn’t make myself “competitive” when I was a teenager, and if I had, yes, I might have decided that I wanted a biological progeny and been willing to invest in the emotion and particular constant intimacy that it took to have one. Furthermore, had I done so, I could have wound up like former New Jersey Governor James E. McGreevy (“The Confession”). Who can say what would have been right?

Were “don’t ask don’t tell” to be lifted – and that goal looks like it on the horizon, well within this planet’s curvature – I might well change how I feel about these matters. Were there no such policy, or if the matter had not become politicized and moralized, perhaps I would have been able to make the career switch to teaching after “retirement.” I could have gotten back into the math. Who knows, maybe I could have been teaching calculus to the next generation of young people who will have to solve the global warming problems. (I’ve written about Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology) in northern Virginia on my Issues Blog. But, as things stand now, the state of the legal system says to me, “you didn’t pay your dues properly as a young man. You really aren’t suitable as a role model.” Then I can’t pretend to be. Right now, that’s how I have to see it, as far as my own plans go. Immutability has nothing to do with it. There are consequences for these things. Society has to change its mind about these matters through the democratic process. Even for a 65 year old “civilian,” overturning “don’t ask don’t tell” becomes a personal moral litmus test.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

DOJ apparently fired some US attorneys over sexual orientation


The Los Angeles Times this morning is running a shocking story about the United States Department of Justice, by Richard B. Schmitt, “Sexuality bias seen at Justice Department: An internal report says that alleged homosexuality was used as a litmus test in hiring and firing; Margaret Chiara, a former U.S. attorney, now thinks a false rumor cost her job”. The link is here.

The story goes on to talk about a rumored relationship between Chiara and Leslie Hagen, which Chiara denies. Of course, the DOJ is claiming that all of these dismissals (there were nine of them in particular) were based strictly on “performance.” The DOJ’s inspector general found that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales used homosexuality as an indicator for personnel decisions.

There have been comparable complaints in the past about the Special Counsel (Scott Bloch, during the Bush Administration) not properly enforcing civil service regulations about sexual orientation, in effect since 1973. These regulations might not apply to political appointments. This was covered on this blog May 7, 2008.

Federal GLOBE does not yet have this story on its website as far as I can see, but it does have this guideline statement.

Now, I see in my own local paper that it gets worse. The front page of the Washington Post July 29 has a story by Carrie Johnson, “Internal Justice Dept. Report Cites Illegal Hiring Practices,” link here. It looks like there was ring to hire only “Conservative Christians” and eliminate liberals and yuppies. The Post even weighs in with an editorial this morning, p A16, “Justice Besmirched: How the Bush administration soiled itself," link here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

School tragedy in Oxnard CA and a gay teen


This is an unpleasant story to acknowledge, and I’ll leave the details to the link. But we must stop and pay attention to it.

On Feb. 12, 2008 eighth grader Lawrence King, who had been outing himself for several years, was shot in a computer lab in the E. O. Green Junior School in Oxnard, CA by Brandon McInerney, 14. Shortly thereafter McInerney was arrested and faces 50+ years in prison if convicted as an adult. It is possible for prosecutors to add hate crimes to the charges.

The details are in a Newsweek “Cover Story by Ramin Satoodeh, July 28, 2008, p. 41, “Young, Gay and Murdered,” link here. The byline for the story is “Kids are coming out younger, but are schools ready to handle the complex issues of identity and sexuality? For Larry King, the question had tragic implications.”

There had been some memos passed around by school administrators, to the effect that state law required the school to accept Lawrence’s freedom of expression to an extent, and telling teachers they would have to walk a delicate line in teaching students tolerance. In this neighborhood, it was not easy. King appears to have been old for the eight grade (the normal age is 13-14) and the news story discusses some developmental problems.

When I “substitute taught” in northern Virginia in the high schools, there were a few students who were openly gay. Arlington County schools allowed PFLAG or groups similar to “gay straight alliance.” I did not personally observe any problems with this issue at all. In one history class during a newspaper exercise at a Fairfax county school, a student actually asked about the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that was reported that morning. I discussed it as “objectively” as possible.

There is a sinister and disturbing lesson in the King tragedy, which follows a pattern of other such incidents, not all GLBT-related by any means. Here, another young man felt pressured by the “moral” laws of his own upbringing, which required him to function and perform within certain inviolate boundaries as a male. He could not tolerate the idea that others did not have to stay or would not stay within those bounds. To express his own indignation, he was willing to go to prison for life to make a “final statement.” This is the sort of mentality that ran underneath the young “men” who perpetrated 9/11. At a psychological level, it sounds to me like the same thing that is going on in the West Bank and in the tribal areas of Pakistan, as well as Columbine, or even the very recent tragedy in Knoxville. This was an act of terror. At least that's how I see it.

This situation may differ from that of Matthew Shepard (Foundation) whose perpetrators (with a horrific incident in Wyoming in October 1998) did not expect apprehension, but who now serve consecutive or “without parole” life terms In many other such incidents (like Va. Tech), the perpetrators commit suicide or expect to be apprehended and to “sacrifice” themselves. Furthermore, with all the theories about the “teen brain”, 14 may sound too young to comprehend the consequences of such an act. Personally, I don’t believe it. I do wonder why a minor was allowed to get a handgun and bring it into a school campus. Why didn’t the parents have it locked up? Or how did he get it. I say this while fully in support of Second Amendment rights – for adults – and in moral support of “Pink Pistols.”

I note this story shortly after receiving an email from Equality Advocates Pennsylvania on the recent event where the state supreme Court struck down “the amendments to the state's hate crimes law that added sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, gender, and mental and physical disability in 2002. The law was overturned based on the procedural way the legislation was passed by the legislature, not the content of the law.” The link for that story is here. As I noted recently in this blog, for reasons of principle, I have not been a fan of hate crimes laws. The sentence for a crime should be based on the crime itself, not the identity or affiliation of the victim.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

TownDC will have talent show: what will people do for a short term "job" in tougher times?


Well, I was at the Town DC last night, and the “drag show” announced a talent contest for Friday Aug. 1. The club said there was an opportunity to earn $1000, and there was some requirement to bring twenty other people. It wasn’t clear from the announcement of the club was paying the money, or if that included tips and prizes. But, “she” said, if you can dance and sing and dress up, by all means enter. Anyone.

So, I guess, in tough economic times, if you are willing to bend those genders and perhaps undergo the Steve Carell treatment beforehand, you could make some money. Perhaps the show includes re-enacting that infamous man-o-lantern scene from “The Forty Year Old Virgin”.

Or, perhaps, the drag show could become a spoof on Saturday Night Live. Could someone perform a more wholesome emulation, perhaps of Lance Bass.

The Club is in the U-street – Cardoza section of Washington DC, not far from the Lincoln Theater in one direction and Howard University in another, north of the Shaw neighborhood. It replaces the Velvet Nation which was lost to real estate development associated with the new Nationals Park in Anacostia.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

House Committee holds vigorous debate on "don't ask don't tell"


SLDN (Servicemebers Legal Defense Network) has published a new brief for the public explaining why the 1993 “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law should be repealed. It is fairly concise and the link is here.

On Wednesday, July 23, the House Armed Services Committee (Committee (Subcommittee on Military Personnel) held hearings on the possibility of repealing the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law as part of Marty Meehan’s bill, “The Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2007”. The hearings were covered live on C-Span. The took place in Room 2118 of the House Office Building at 2 PM July 23 2008. SLDN's home page provides a link to the House bill material with an "In Congress" link on the left side of the page.

Erica Warner (and Pauline Jelinek) covered the event for The Associated Press, in a story carried in The Washington Post online here. The AP and Washington Post provided a detailed slide show which the visitor can see (and there are additional materials and visuals available at the Post today by keying in “don’t ask don’t tell” in the newspaper’s search box on the home page). Retired Marine Staff Seargent Eric Alva testified. Alva had a leg amputated after a severed wound from a land mine explosion shortly after the United States started its invasion of Iraq in 2003 (a historical event now covered by the HBO film series “Generation Kill”) HRC has a cover story for ALVA here.

Some moderate Republicans are coming around to the “log cabin” idea that the Ban is harmful to national security. Generally, most observers believe that the repeal has a much better chance of occurring if Barack Obama is elected than John McCain. Log Cabin Republicans has a story on the hearings here.

(See also, earlier posting July 17).

Update: July 28

SLDN provides a video clip from the hearing at this link.

There are links to testimony of Maj. Gen. Vance Coleman (Ret USA) and Captain Joan E. Darrah (Ret US Navy) before the Subcommittee at the SLDN press links here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Echo on gays and libertarians; what about victim impacts?


Today, I have another quick note about websites that connect gay freedom to libertarianism. The most up-to-date URL right now is Gayliberty, which in turn links to GLIL, Independent Gay Forum, Outright Libertarians, and Pink Pistols (the last of these related to 2nd Amendment rights to self-defense). The GLIL Archives collection for selected “The Quill” articles from the 1990s is here. (I edited this leaflet in from 1995-1997.) I have several pieces, such as a discussion of former midshipman Joseph Steffan’s 1992 book “Honor Bound”. One of my favorite quotes comes from Joe’s book (p 145): “"Personal honor is an absolute -- you either have honor or you do not. No one can take it from you; it can only be surrendered willingly. And once it is surrendered, once it is compromised, it can never again be fully regained." My first piece (from August 1994) contains the statement “Stonewall was not simply a rebellion for "gay rights"; it was a turning point, a divide where a formal tension had to be recognized, between those motivated by their own inner selves, and those motivated by fulfilling more conventional roles in raising families” and then “The end point of a gay rights movement ought to be that society legally recognizes the right of any adult to intimate association with a chosen, consenting, adult "significant other." Sometimes I forget these simpler formations of basic rights myself.

One point not often discussed here has been the libertarian opposition to “hate crimes” laws. Pragmatically, gay organizations see getting them passed as a major advance. As a matter of principle, the sentence for a crime should not depend on who the victim was. A related issue would be the use of victim impact statements during sentencing phases after conviction at criminal trials. Here, the pragmatic concern may be reversed: the GLBT community may fear that, if the idea of being a biological mother or father in a traditional marriage cannot be played up, the jury or judge could consider the crime somehow less heinous. Nevertheless, Matthew Shepard’s two assailants (October 1998, subject of the play and film “The Laramie Project”) got either consecutive life or life-without-parole terms in Wyoming.

These concerns could be backed up by another bizarre incident in the 1980s. After the Delta plane crash in Dallas in August 1985 (I was living there), investigators tried to claim that the lives of one or more of the victims was less “valuable” because of HIV exposure, an attempt that sent rumors and shudders through the gay community there afterward.

Philip Chandler (UK) has an interesting perspective on how hate crimes might be motivated with a clinical study, described in somewhat explicit terms, here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Gene Robinson creates controversy when "uninvited" to Anglican meeting at Canterbury


There are reports of controversy in Britain with the appearance Right Rev. Gene Robison, the Bishop of New Hampshire, Episcopal, uninvited, at the ten-year-cyclical Canterbury for the Lambeth conference. This time the conference is supposed to be devoid of votes or plenaries.

Religion reported Ruth Gledhill writes a story “Gay American Bishop Gene Robinson Accuses Opponents of ‘Idolatry” in a story July 14, 2008 in the London Times online, link here. 200 African and Asian bishops are refusing to attend to protest the presence of Robinson in the church at Canterbury, even if he was uninvited.

Robinson is reported as having said “When young men are knifing each other on the streets of London and a billion or more people are living on less than $1 a day, why is the Anglican Communion tearing itself apart over two men wanting to make a Christian family together?”

Robinson was elected Bishop in 2003 among much controversy and entered office in March 2004 (Wikipedia entry).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Britain's Conservative Party on same-sex unions; what about EU on gay marriage, gays in the military?


Today (Sunday July 20), CNN’s Fareid Zakarie interviewed David Cameron, the head of Britain’s Conservative Party. In the interview, Cameron supported the idea of legally recognized same-sex domestic partnerships as encouraging stability and as consonant with “conservative” values. Cameron said that “conservatives” view the world from the viewpoint of the individual and the family as part of “society” which is distinct from what the left calls the “state.” He also talked about defending “freedom” as requiring the need to recognize the legal due process rights of terror suspects, whom he said were inflaming young Muslim men in Britain.

A quick check shows that Britain passed its Civil Partnership Act, which took effect in December 2005. Civil partnerships, unlike marriages, do not have to be registered publicly. BBC News confirmed about 1200 bookings in December 2005. The main news story (“Gay ‘weddings’ become law in the UK”) was posted December 5, 2006, here.

On December 22, 2005 the same paper published “gay marriage around the globe” here.

Britain officially ended its ban on openly gay members of the Armed forces in 2000. A paper in AC, “Associated Content,” March 19, 2006, was titled “Gays in the Military: What about the UK, France, and other EU Countries: Everybody else is doing it, why can’t we?” link here. That has long been the major argument of the Michael D. Palm center at the University of California at Santa Barbara (see Feb. 22, 2008 posting on this blog).

Friday, July 18, 2008

House Committee to hold first congressional hearings on "don't ask don't tell" since 1993


SLDN is reporting that next week, on Wednesday July 23, 2008 the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Military Personnel will hold the first hearing on “don’t ask don’t tell” since it was codified into law in November 1993 (and implemented with a formal Pentagon policy in February 1994).

The SLDN reports that over 12,500 servicemembers have been discharged from the Armed Forces of the United States under “don’t ask don’t tell” and that 65,000 glbt personnel serve covertly. Over 60 linguists fluent in Arabic have been discharged. And polls show that now 79% of Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, up from 57% in 1992. That statistic bodes well for pressure for legislative change through the democratic political process, rather than from trying to rely on the courts. So far, three appeals courts have made ruling on the policy in some form, and have upheld its constitutionality under the doctrine of “deference to the military,” making it unlikely the Supreme Court could take it. It is true that one sailor, Keith Meinhold, did successfully challenge the “old” 1981 “absolute” policy (the “123 Words” in Randy Shilts’s 1993 book “Conduct Unbecoming”) in the Ninth Circuit (sldn account here.)

SLDN offers an email link to inform others about the hearing, here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

US Census may tabulate but won't publish stats on gay marriage


In 2010, U.S. census takers (I could become one of them!) will manually tabulate same-sex marriages, but gay marriages will not be counted in published Census Bureau totals. On marriages related to federal law and benefits (like social security survivorship or federal tax code of the IRS) will be published.

That was reported by Mike Swift of the brash San Jose Mercury News on July 12, 2008, in a story called “U.S. Census Bureau won’t count same-sex marriages,” link here. Swift makes note of the large number of gay marriage ceremonies in California since June 2008, and these could stop and become invalid depending on a November referendum, which the California Supreme Court will not try to prevent from happening (the court had declared that marriage law was unconstitutional as the state constitution is now).

Christopher Lee of the Washington Post picked up on the story today (July 17) on p A19 (link here), starting with a specific story from Massachusetts.

The unwillingness of government to publish data on same-sex marriages reinforces as nasty little secret: the benefits of heterosexual marriage, however essential it is to raise children and indirectly provide for the disabled and the elderly, requires subsidy and sacrifice from those who do not get married heterosexually. Call the concept “heterosexism.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Senate weighs lifting ban on HIV+ visitors and immigrants


At the same time that the Senate ponders greatly increasing funding to combat AIDS. The Senate also considers the possibility of ending the ban on HIV-positive persons visiting the United States. The ban has been in effect for more than twenty years, and the company the United States keeps in this regard is not flattering: Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Russia: It includes Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Russia.

Govtrack shows a bill S 2486 (“The Non-discrimination in Travel and Immigration Act of 2007), introduced by Sen. John Kerry in Dec. 2007 in the 110th Congress, link here.

The AP is by Jim Abrams and appears here. It was reprinted on AOL, and a survey showed that most Americans actually oppose lifting the ban on HIV positive visitors.

There are several other important bills in the 110th Congress related to HIV. One of the most important in S 860 “The Early Treatment for HIV Act of 2007” introduced by Sen Gordon Smith (R-OR). The bill would amend title XIX of the Social Security Act to allow states to provide Medicaid coverage for low-income individuals infected with HIV. The govtrack link is here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Men's Resource Center on gay marriage


The Men’s Resource Center for Change has a number of position papers on a number of problems about the way men fare in political and domestic problems. For one thing, women live about eight years longer than men, and men are supposed to bow down and treat women as queens (pun intended). Somewhere they say that.

But one article that caught my eye was a Summer 2004 article by Michael Dover, written shortly after the Massachusetts state supreme court decision on gay marriage. The piece is titled “On Gay Marriage: Historical Moments, Flawed Arguments,” link here.

He goes through the usual “anti-gay marriage” arguments, like “every child has a birthright to a married mother and father” and dismisses them the way a judge might. But the argument that comes closest to how a lot of “straight” people feel is the best and the last. LGBT people are “The Other” and not entitled to live line “Us.” Put it this way, to work as a reliable social (and socializing) institution, marriage needs to confer some sense of privilege that demands respect and sometimes deference or outright subservience from others. That’s where some of the “second class citizen” thinking comes from. The social approbation is one of the features that make active lifelong monogamy possible.

I think something more is going on here. It has a lot to do with the importance people give to the blood family as a center for emotional attention. It’s difficult for many people to make their own way in the world as “actualized” individual adults without knowing that emotional world is still there for them.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

China allows gay clubs but not political expression; family responsibility is mandatory


Last week, the Discovery Channel ran an important documentary series about China (“The People’s Republic of Capitalism”), produced and narrated by Ted Koppel, and the second of the episodes, “From Maoism to Meism” covered gay life in China.

On one level, larger cities in China, like the inland city Chongqing covered in the series, have gay bars and discos with flashy entertainment and drag shows. The Chinese consider this an “escape valve” not allowed to be taken seriously politically. China does not allow gay pride marches, or any organized political expression.

There were a couple of other disturbing points. Chinese culture expects adults to get married and have exactly one child. This is in itself an irony with the “one child per family” policy which is said to produce “little emperor” only children, perhaps a reason why China is now embracing a very competitive style of capitalism under the veneer of a culturally conformist society. The "one child" policy means that a non-procreating only child would end his parents' biological lineage. But another major reason is that the Chinese, like many Asian societies, are very serious about expecting adult children to care for their aging parents. China does not have social security or widely available group health insurance yet, although its likely that worldwide financial companies will try to sell the Chinese on the idea of private accounts to provide lifelong financial security, producing a more privatized system than we (or Europe) has. But as a result of this instantiation of “family values”, some young Chinese gay men say that they will have to go back in the closet and marry (heterosexually) and have a child after age 30, as if this was something they could switch on and off at will.

To a western male with a “European” ancestry, Chinese gay society, at least on television, looks rather uniform. Some day when I am better able, financially at least, I’d like to see the country in person, including Chongqing and with the train ride to Lhasa. Ted Koppel has gotten me to think about going.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

SLDN cautions US soldiers on attempts at same-sex marriage


Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) urges members of the United States Armed Forces to exercise extreme caution in pursuing same-sex marriages, particularly that they are “legal” now in California, at least until the referendum in November (which I think, thankfully, may well “fail” because gay marriage has turned out to provide some economic benefit).

One of the parameters for determining that a servicemember has “told” his gay sexual orientation, according to the 1993 “don’t ask don’t tell law” and accompanying administrative policies, is that a member has attempted or successfully carried out a same-gender marriage.

Here is an excerpt from the 1993 law (from “Chapter 37 of title 10, United States Code, new section: #654. Policy concerning homosexuality in the armed forces”)

(b) POLICY- A member of the armed forces shall be separated from the armed forces under regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Defense if one or more of the following findings is made and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in the regulations:
(1) That the member has engaged in, attempted to engage in, or solicited another to engage in a homosexual act or acts and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in such regulations, that the member has demonstrated that-
(A) such conduct is a departure from the member’s usual and customary behavior;
(B) such conduct, under all the circumstances, is unlikely to recur;
(C) such conduct was not accomplished by use or force, coercion, or intimidation;
(D) under the particular circumstances of the case, the member’s continued presence in the armed forces is consistent with the interests of the armed forces in proper discipline, good order, and morale; and
(E) the member does not have a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts.
(2) That the member has stated that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual, or words to that effect, unless there is a further finding, made and approved in accordance with procedures set forth in the regulations, that the member has demonstrated that he or she is not a person who engages in, attempts to engage in, or intends to engage in homosexual acts.
(3) That the person has married or attempted to marry a person known to be of the same biological sex.

Back in 1993, we thought it remarkable that Congress inserted this last sentence into the law. At the time, no state recognized same-sex marriage, and the litigation in Hawaii was still in its early stages. In this area, some members of Congress were prescient.
The SLDN reference ("SLDN Statement on the California Court Decision Granting Marriage Rights to Same-Sex Couples", May 15, 2008) is here.

In theory, one could pose the question for trans-gendered people. In some states, for some time, persons have been able marry legally according to the assumed gender (after completion of the "process") into an opposite sex marriage. TG (as self-identified or after treatment) persons have never been allowed to serve in the military (there could have been some disputes over this when there was a draft). However, in a few cases, people have undergone gender change after a military career of a large number of years. One such person had served in the Navy as a male for fifteen years, and worked as a civilian in Naval intelligence (doing almost the same job) after a gender change. That person was interviewed on Scott Peck's radio program in 1993.

Friday, July 11, 2008

WI: gay couples who travel to California, marry and return could be prosecuted


The Washington Blade website has provided a news story from “PageOneQ” that raises the possibility that same-sex couples from Wisconsin who travel to California to marry and return could be prosecuted under a 1915 law.

Wisconsin statute 765.04(1) reads:
"If any person residing and intending to continue to reside in this state who is disabled or prohibited from contracting marriage under the laws of this state goes into another state or country and there contracts a marriage prohibited or declared void under the laws of this state, such marriage shall be void for all purposes in this state with the same effect as though it had been entered into in this state."

The law also provides a sentence for anyone who enters an illegal marriage with a fine of $10000 and nine months in prison. Putting the two facts together, travel to a state or country (Canada) that recognizes same-sex marriage and returning to Wisconsin could invoke the sentence.

The is a story in the Wisconsin JS Online by Stacy Forster, “Wisconsin gay couples who marry outside state could face penalty,” link here. The "conservative" Wisconsin Family Council is actually baiting the state to enforce the law, and some lawyers in Wisconsin are advising gay couples to take the possibility of prosecution seriously. The PageOneQ link is here.

California's marriage situation is more of an issue than is that of Massachusetts, because California will marry same-sex couples from out of state.

Picture: A WPA logging camp (museum) near Eau Claire, WI (2002).

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Children of civil unions and a disabled parent can qualify social security benefits



In October 2007, the Acting General Counsel Social Security Administration issued a memo titled “Whether the Defense of Marriage Act precludes the non-biological child or a member of a Vermont civil union from qualifying for child’s insurance benefits under the Social Security Act.” The link is here.
This apparently was based on similar work from the Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department.

This morning, July 5, the Washington Post ran an editorial “Justice for Gays: the Bush administration rules that children of same-sex benefits can receive social security benefits”. The link is here. The couple were Monique and Karen, who had entered into a civil union in Vermont. Karen had been identified as a “second parent.” Karen became disabled, able to receive social security herself, and this set up the legal question as to whether her son Elijah would be eligible. The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel Steve A. Engel would rule that the notorious Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA, signed by President Clinton in 1996) would not affect social security benefits for children of a disabled person, because there was no requirement for marriage in its meaning normally conferring federal survivor benefits. There only a question as to whether the state of birth recognized the parentage of the child, which Vermont did.

Yet, according to “The Volokh Conspiracy” newsletter (in a June 19, 2008 posting), Peter Sprigg, of the Family Research Council, expressed disappointment that the Bush administration did not take the ironic “pro-family” position in denying benefits apparently to a non-biological child. The link is here. It seems telling that “pro-family” forces want to make so much out of biological procreative processes and the adulation that it (when occurring in marriage) apparently must demand from surrounding society.

Friday, July 04, 2008

"Pro family" group wants to boycott McDonalds over gay issues


On Wednesday, July 2, while visiting the Education Center at Mount Vernon, I met a young man with a USMA t shirt and girl friend. (This happened right in front of a display talking about how a gentleman in colonial Virginia "marries well" and joins the Freemasons.) He looked perfect, and I quizzed him – yes, he had just graduated from West Point, and could be deployed to Iraq in about a year. I asked about the Point and he said that 17% of the senior class was female. I didn’t get specifically into “don’t ask don’t tell” but I felt like the encounter anticipates what will come into debate: the DADT laws as is has no place in our military personnel policy.

Now, on to the morning paper. Frank Ahrens has a story on p D01, Business, of The Washington Post, July 4, “Gay-marriage Opponents to Boycott McDonalds”, link here. My first thought was to snicker and remember Bill Clinton’s liking for big Macs early in his presidency, when DADT was being hotly debated.

It sounds as thought the American Family Association (http://www.afa.net/ -- try afa.org and you’ll see how important the last tld of a domain name can be) is play whiner by demanding that McDonalds remove itself from the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The petition even has a separate web domain here. The news story points out that some companies have cut back on ads and might stop the relationships with the GLBT markets and simply cite the economic downturn. However, the AFA makes some sort of statement about the company’s supporting “the homosexual agenda” and claims that it is not trying to pressure McDonalds into firing gay employees. (Remember Cracker Barrel?)

The AFA and other “pro family” groups have “pulled off” boycotts or attempts before, against Ford and Walt Disney. They have threatened baseball teams for allowing “gay days” at their ballparks. As a whole, the track record for the effectiveness of these consumer boycotts (after all, that’s the free market) is underwhelming.

It’s well to ponder what they really “want.” They are challenging a cultural climate that has removed a lot of the support for the emotional climate of family life, and the right of families to demand emotional and psychological loyalty of the still unmarried, which they see as essential to long term sustained emotional commitments of marriages engaged in raising children.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Obama's call for federal support of faith-based groups is tricky; recall the BSA case


Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has brought back what many people viewed as a negative idea in the opening months of the Bush presidency, providing federal support to faith-based organizations that in turn offer charity. The Washington Post story appears today (July 2) on p A03 and has the following link. The story includes a video clip of Obama.

Obama has a proposal for a Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The idea has drawn criticism because often faith-based organizations may want to discriminate against certain people, especially LGBT people, whose cultural values or “behaviors” may contradict that “faith-based” beliefs. In other words, such a practice could bring the ages old conflicts of religion and homosexuality back into some workplaces.

Obama has said that he supports federal legislation protecting gays (like ENDA), as well as lifting the military “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. He says that groups receiving federal funds would have to make services available to everyone, not just members of their own groups, and could not make services predicated on listening to religious proselytizing.

It is not clear if he would urge that Congress require such religious groups not to practice discrimination in hiring.

The issue of private groups that use public resources has been well illustrated by the Boy Scouts of America. The Supreme Court had ruled (in Boy Scouts of America v Dale, 2000) (Cornell law school opinion here that the BSA could use its own standards for membership and hiring because it is “private”. Since then, some communities have denied the BSA access to public facilities because of its discriminatory policy. Ironically, Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty had supplied an amicus brief supporting the BSA on libertarian grounds. (for example, here. I recall that the BSA used to show up at job fairs in Dallas for computer programmers back in the 1980s.

My own personal practice is that I do not want to work for religious organizations or for lobbying or special interest advocacy organizations whose beliefs would be contradictory to mine or which would view me as a second class citizen, even if I was protected by ENDA-like laws.

Later today, major media reported on Obama's appearances in Colorado Springs, CO, a generally conservative city, home of "Focus on the Family". Obama appealed to voters their by talking about his proposed strong carrots for national service. Implementing such a program would force the government to think about dealing with gays in other potentially "intimate" situations (my posting June 26), and would hopefully increase the pressure to overturn the military "don't ask don't tell."