Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Westboro "Baptist Church" stages anti-gay rallies at DC area schools

Vitriolic protestors from the notorious Westboro Baptist Church (I should put “Baptist Church” in quotes because it has no affiliation with a Baptist convention) of Fred Phelps “graced” Fairfax High School and George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and the White House, and apparently Towson High School, north of Baltimore MD. Local television stations reported this on March 30.

The Washington Blade has an article by Chris Johnson, March 27, 2009, “Activists to counter Westboro’s D.C. visit : Counter-protests, fundraising efforts held in response”, link here. Westboro has a website "GHF" whose full name I will not repeat or link to.

I don’t recall stories of Westboro visiting high schools before. This is certainly a challenge to administrators teachers and students. When I lived in Minneapolis, Westboro did picket AGCMCC once, and we were told not to speak to them.

Rev. Kharma Amos and others from MCC Nova were shown in the television reports.

Note the sign on the picture of the Topeka, Kansas "church". It's ironic that Topeka was the city that generated "Brown v. Board of Education" (1954).

John Stossel ("Give me a break!") has covered Westboro before, and shown how everybody wants Fred Phelps and his minions to go away.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Zogby survey shows that many soldiers in deployed units know gay soldiers in their units

A polling organization, Zogby, has an interesting article, if a bit belated (Dec. 18, 2006), titled “’Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ Not Working” here.

It’s a bit belated now, especially as we come off the high of the National Dinner earlier this month (see March 14) but even two years ago, 23% of troops stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan said that they knew that someone in their unit was gay or lesbian, 59% said that they found out from the individual himself or herself, and 55% said that the presence of homosexuals in the unit was well known. That hardly comports with Pentagon claims that the presence of open gays will destroy “unit cohesion,” especially task cohesion, as discussed by Nathaniel Frank in his recent book. (books blog, March 11).

The percentages deployed troops who know gays and lesbians in their units will only be higher now.

Indeed, a recent series on PBS, "Carrier" about the USS Nimitz, had an episode where a sailor said frankly about gays the carrier, "a lot of the men on the ship are." (See April 27, 2008 on my TV blog.) Even as Randy Shilts had written in "Conduct Unbecoming" in 1993, the ban is a bit of a sham.

Indeed, when I was “stationed” at Fort Eustis in 1969, my own history was pretty well known in the barracks, although I was in an unusual detachment that did not face the forced intimacy often talked about. In those days, the “ban” was enforced by the individual services (Army regulations described “Class I” through “Class III” homosexuals, the last of which meant associating with homosexuals) but, when the Army and other services needed men (in a draft environment), often largely ignored.

Charlottesville (VA) libertarian writer Richard Sincere provides some more analysis in his March 26 posting, “DADT: Let’s Look at the Polling Data” here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Company advertises legal forms for LGBT couples

A company named Rocketlawyer, in an email sent by Peter Kojalo, advertised, yesterday by email, documents that LGBT couples can download to prepare for contingencies, such as hospitalizations, that could affect one partner when not fully protected by the privileges of marriage.

The HTML title pretty much communicates the purpose of the site, namely “Free Legal Help, Free Legal Documents: Wills, Leases, Contracts, Legal Forms and Agreements, Incorporation, Find a Lawyer.” But there is a specific subpitch: “LegalOut Launches, Helping LGBT Individuals and Couples Protect Themselves With Affordable, Efficient Online Legal Document Preparation”.

I’ll quote one paragraph of the email that states its case:

For a segment of society that continues to fight for the same basic civil rights that millions of Americans enjoy, taking the steps to protect oneself is even more critical, Severo says. "Can you imagine being in the hospital after an accident, and your partner couldn't even visit you because your state doesn't recognize partners as family members?" Severo points out. "This is all about giving people in the LGBT community the power to take control over their critical life decisions." The speaker is Lindalisa Severo.

The company was founded by Charley Moore.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Oprah presents women who leave traditional marriages for other women

On Wednesday March 25, 2009 Oprah did a show on “Women leaving men for other women”. Oprah started out by saying that it seems that women are more “fluid” than maybe men are. She starts out with a female physical trainer that straight women fall for.

The link is here.

Lisa Diamond, author of “Sexual Fluidity”, discussed the Kinsey Scale, which was shown on the program. Lisa said that sexual orientation exclusivity is less common in women than in men.

The program then presented Chris, who had been a stay at home mom in a traditional marriage, and then met “she’s the one.”

Lisa said that what people are attracted to varies enormously and does not have the existential significance that conservative writers try to give it.

Then Oprah presented another woman who had been married for 24 years (with three children) before falling on love with a woman. The oldest daughter encouraged her to come out.

Much of the discussion related the concept that being gay is about inner identity, not just about sexuality. Diamond said that "fluidity is not choice."

Oprah mentioned an earlier show with Ted Haggard, who said "I don't want to be put in the box." Oprah acted a bit distant, which surprised me.

The issue of divorce did come up.

On Friday, March 27, ABC's "The View" took up the same topic. It was said that men are less "fluid" and know if they're gay much earlier in life. The term "heated missile" got used.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Prop 8 donors challenge CA campaign laws, say privacy was invaded

Donors for Proposition 8 in California have filed a lawsuit in California, demanding overturning of a portion of a state campaign finance reporting law that demands releasing the names of significant donors even to referendum campaigns. The story appears Monday March 23, 2009 in The Washington Times, on the front page, and is by Valerie Richardson. The title is “Prop 8 donors sue for privacy; harassment cited in case on campaign rules”, link here. Some of the "naming names" happens on a site called "Californians Against Hate".

Politics can generate strange bedfellows. A few years ago there was a concern that federal campaign finance reform could shut down amateur political blogging for good, because of a lower court ruling. Eventually the FEC clarified the rules to “our” favor, but the problem figured into a bizarre incident in my own life in October 2005 when I was substitute teaching.

Should people be able to donate toward passing an initiative (even if we disagree with it) without identification? In this age of blogging and self-promotion, it seems that some people still value “privacy.”

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Is the "direct democracy" of Proposition 8 a good thing in general?

Jeff Amestoy has a bizarre op-ed on p A13 of the Washington Post, Saturday March 21, 2009, “Winning By Losing on Prop. 8” link here.

He predicts that the California Supreme Court will almost certainly let proposition 8 stand. He argues that citizens and voters have always had an easier hand amending state constitutions than the federal constitution (the amending process of which was so thorough analyzed by John Vile in the early 1990s). He also says that in general, this is a good thing, direct democracy.

What, then, about the ability of voters to “take away rights”? Amestoy doesn’t really get into that enough. It isn’t so hard to remember the same arguments with Romer v. Evans on Colorado Amendment 2 in the 1990s. And the real significance of marriage law goes way beyond the rights (and responsibilities) of the partners in a marriage. It significantly affects how the unmarried and childless will be treated, and whether they will be expected to sacrifice for families “for the greater good”. It does, in some parlance, affect the “rules of engagement” in other areas. The same can be said about the military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” which has affects on others outside of the military.

But the real significance of Proposition 8 may be that by 2012 or so (assuming we survive the Mayan calendar) voters are likely to overturn their own previous vote the next time around. Hold the referendum again even today and proponents of gay marriage just might win, through the political process.

Friday, March 20, 2009

West Point gay alumni organize

There is an organization named “Knights Out” of “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender U.S. Military Academy Alumni and their Supporters.” The group says that it is working with AOG, the West Point Association of Graduates.

Gay.com has a “hot topics” article today about the group here.

I visited the campus (about 90 miles north on New York City) in September 1994. There is a visitor’s center which demonstrates the room inspection procedures and talks about building “unit cohesion.”

In the early 1990s, on Scott Peck's radio show in Washington, another organization of Service Academy Graduates appeared. It is called Academy GALA and its website is still active, here.

The two major books about the experiences of LGBT people in service academies is Joseph Steffan's "Honor Bound" (1992) about the Naval Academy in the 1980s (would make a great movie!) and Reichen Lehmkuhl's "Here’s What We’ll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force" (2006).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Obama signs UN "gay rights" resolution for US, still slow on lifting DADT

Multiple news outlets report that President Obama will sign, for the United States, a United Nations declaration calling for an end to laws criminalizing homosexual acts worldwide. The blog story by Adam Boulton on “Sky” is here.

Previously, the Bush administration had criticized those statements could commit the federal government on matters state jurisdiction, supposedly violating federalism. Some states (perhaps most) let private employers and landlords discriminate against homosexuals, and the federal government does not allow open homosexuals to serve in the military. But such reasoning is circular; it shows that the military ban has consequences outside of the Armed Forces. Matthew Lee’s AP story was here and was carried on Yahoo!

A hosted news story from Google news indicates that President Obama is still treading very carefully on lifting the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, despite the strong lobbying effort by SLDN last weekend and tremendously upbeat National Dinner Saturday night, already reported here. The story is here.

Ellen Tauscher, who introduced a repeal bill recently, will not remain in the House to support it as she has accepted a State Department post. A Senate version of the bill will probably be introduced this summer.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Oklahoma teacher loses job over trying to put on play about Matthew Shepard's death

Greg Toppo has a disturbing story in USA Today Monday March 16, 2009, “Gay Themed Film Cost Oklahoma Teacher Her Job”, link here. The teacher, Debra Taylor at Granfield High School, had shown an HBO film version of the play “The Laramie Project” about the brutal 1998 death of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. The students decided to do a class project with selected scenes from the play. The principal at first approved but then the Superintendent Ed Turlington tried to stop the play after controversy. When she complained, she was placed on paid leave with the recommendation of termination (apparently for “insubordination”).

The play was written by the Tectonic Theater Project.

There have been other controversies over teachers choosing controversial materials (not necessarily gay-related), such as with Connie Heermann at an Indiana high school for assigning “Freedom Writers”, written up on my issues blog June 29, 2008 (link), and stirring considerable discussion.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

SLDN holds 17th Annual Dinner & Silent Auction in Washington: "Stronger Military, Stronger America" is theme

Stronger Military, Stronger America” was the theme of SLDN’s 17th Annual National Dinner & Silent Auction at the National Building Museum at Judiciary Square Metro stop in Washington DC.

The keynote speech was by Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett, USNR (Retired) who put ending “don’t ask don’t tell” as a logic step in the continuation of the American Revolution (he gave practically all of American history except Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” speech.

The special guest as Senator Daniel K. Induye, D-HA, Chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee and Recipient of the Medal of Honor. The Senator opened the dinner, assisting with the national anthem.

The evening’s Honoree was Major Margaret Witt. She explained that in the retrial at the district court level, the government will now have to prove that the presence of people whose homosexual orientation is known is causally disruptive of unit cohesion. It seems to me that Major Witt would make a fascinating guest for Oprah Winfrey's show right now.

Author Nathaniel Frank (his book “Unfriendly Fire” was reviewed on my books blog March 11) was honored.

Congressman Jared Polis spoke about the cost of the ban.

Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer spoke briefly about her experiences with the ban in the Washington National Guard in the 1990s.

Other listed special guests included Congressman Eric J. J. Mason and Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison Brian Bond.

SLDN Board Member Anna M. Curren of San Diego gave a libertarian speech on how to pay fewer income taxes while raising $100000 additional from the crowd of about 1500 people. Curren is known for her nursing school textbook “Math for Meds: Dosages and Solutions” (can be found on Amazon).

I met transgendered veteran Janice Josephine Carney who has a book “Purple Hearts and Silver Stars: Poems, Rants, Essays and Silver Stars Direct from a Trans-Women's Soul” available here.

Visitors should also become familiar with SLDN's "Journalists' Guide to Don't Ask Don't Tell" here (pdf).

Friday, March 13, 2009

SLDN holds "Freedom to Serve" rally on Capitol grounds

Today Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network (SLDN) held it’s rally (as part of Lobby Day) on the West Lawn of the Capitol in Washington DC at noon, in a sprinkle of wet, non-sticking snow. Several hundred people attended.

There was a lot of typical pep talk pomp, led by SLDN Grassroots Organizer Ben Mishkin. “What do we want? Freedom to serve. What do we need to do:? Lift the ban.”

But there were many important speakers.

The most remarkable may be Major Margaret Witt, who was discharged from the Air Force after 18 years. She lost in court, but in the first win at the appellate level since the formal implementation of “don’t ask don’t tell” the Ninth Circuit ruled that her case could go trial under something more than a rational basis review. As SLDN explained it

“In the majority decision written by Justice Ronald M. Gould, the Ninth Circuit held, “that Lawrence (v. Texas) requires something more than traditional rational basis review…” and also cited a decision by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruling that Lawrence v. Texas applies to the military and requires a “searching constitutional inquiry” when the military attempts to interfere in a service member’s intimate private life.” The full story last May was here. UK writer Phil Chandler made an interesting further analysis here comparing it afar to the Connecticut gay marriage case. It's important to put some points on the board at the appeals level to get the Supreme Court to be willing to take it some day if not first repealed by Congress (or to prod Congress with the possibility that the Supreme Court could strike it down now). So far there have been three "losses" at the appellate level.

The media files for this case are on the Ninth Circuit’s site here.

but I had trouble finding the PDF opinion (site scripting problems).

Darren Manzella, who served a long time openly in Iraq and appeared on “60 Minutes” and was finally discharged, appeared with his mother, who pointed out that her son had been treated as a celebrity on a transoceanic airplane flight by passengers and crew.

Margarethe (Greta) Cammermeyer (“Serving in Silence”) was for all intents and purposes the keynote speaker.

DC Delegate in the House of Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton gave an impassioned address, saying that to expect gay servicemembers to remain silent amounted to cruelty. She said, "we're done asking. And we're telling!"

One young heterosexual male Army NCO (who said he was straight) and Iraq veteran from multiple tours spoke for complete lifting of the ban and elimination of DADT, and said that the presence of open gays did not undermine unit cohesion.

Another gay veteran, now with long hair, talked about the life of an activist.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

HRC has "end the lies" webpage for defenders of Proposition 8 -- a "wall of shame"?

A friend in the UK informed me about an important link on the Human Rights Campaign website, called “End the Lies”, here. The web page includes a petition to be sent to Ken Starr, from Pepperdine University, lead counsel defending Proposition 8. It quotes Starr as saying “hat there are "substantial adverse consequences for children that often flow from alternative household arrangements”. The page also offers posters the opportunity to add to an unofficial “wall of shame”, a kind of variation on Anderson Cooper’s “naming names” in his “culprits of the collapse.”

I’m reminded of the title of one of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s more notorious movies (“True Lies”, an oxymoron).

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Metro Weekly interviews new SLDN director, features cover story on prospects for repeal of DADT

The current (March 5, 2009) issue of Metro Weekly (Washington DC area) has a cover story on the military ban. The cover reads “Don’t ask don’t tell weakens our military: It destroys lives and careers; Seventy percent of Americans oppose it: Is the wait for repeal over?”

The feature story is by Sean Bugg (and Will O’Bryan), and is titled, “The Time Has Come: A new president, a new Congress and increased public support means ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' is near the end. Right?” link here . Well, not so fast. The article discusses the work of the Palm Center’s Nathaniel Frank, and his book, published in early March 2009 by Thomas Dunne, “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America” (website). The article also discusses the recent bill introduced by Ellen Tauscher (D-CA).

The Metro article includes an embedded YouTube interview with Rep. Tauscher from “Think Progress.”.

The hearings for the 2010 Defense Department Authorization Bill later this year will also provide an “opportunity” to raise the issue. Some people fear that “conservatives” will use that bill as an attempt to polarize sides on the issue, as happened in 1993.

Bugg says that the old “unit cohesion” argument is now a red herring, because in combat nobody worries about sexual orientation (even if there are a few racy lines in HBO’s “Generation Kill”).

The article also discusses that even with a Democratic president and Democratic president, overturning the policy can be a difficult sell.

The Metro also has an interview (by Sean Bugg) with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s new director Aubrey Sarvis. The interview indicates that the gay community as a whole has not paid as much attention to this issue as it should.

One issue that will clearly come up is how servicemember Internet behavior could be regulated following repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell”.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

CA: Proposition 8 Appeal Oral Arguments available from California Channel on live broadband

The oral arguments regarding Proposition 8 in California are now taking place before the California Supreme Court. The link for broadband viewing on the “California Channel” is here. The hearings run from 9 AM - 12 noon PST (12 noon to 3 PM EST), Thursday, March 5, 2009.

The cases are known as Strauss et al. v. Horton (Hollingsworth et al., Interveners)(and two other cases, S168066 Tyler et al. v. State of California et al. (Hollingsworth et al., Interveners) and S168078 City and County of San Francisco et al. v. Horton (Hollingsworth et al., Interveners)).

So far, attorneys supporting the amendment (such as former special prosecutor Ken Starr) have made a lot of “popular sovereignty” and the right of the people to govern themselves with the constitutional amending process, even on matters like “rights”. Suspect classes can not be changed, it sounds, and there is a “single subject rule.” The firewall is federalism and the federal constitution. However, one justice asked about Romer v. Evans in Colorado (1996).

The arguments were started with transgendered Shannon Mintner.

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund also offered call-in instructions:
“Here are the call-in instructions:
“Step 1: Call 888-640-7748
“Step 2: Enter code 958621#
“Questions can be emailed before and during the call to libertycircle@lambdalegal.org. For Twitter, reply to one of our updates or tweet your questions to @LambdaLegal during the oral argument. Your question may be asked during today's teleconference!”

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

GLAD anti-DOMA suit is double-edged

American University Law professor Nancy Polikoff has an interesting entry today about the current GLAD lawsuit that attempts to overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, actually (yes) signed by President Clinton, on equal protection grounds. Her (“Beyond Straight and Gay Marriage”) blog is here with the applicable posting March 3, referring to the “Hidden inequities behind anti-DOMA litigation”. GLAD’s own link for the lawsuit is here.

On Feb. 14, Dr. Polikoff wrote an interesting post, “how about the freedom not to marry?” Indeed, most of the time we’re obsessed with making all the benefits equal, and we miss a much bigger point about marriage. That is, the whole practice of institutionalizing procreative sexual intercourse as a lifelong proactive obligation carries with it the “benefit” of socializing people (even adults) who never marry. This issue did come up in her book “Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage,” which I reviewed on my books blog here (Sept. 21, 2008). I’ll repeat one quote (p 151) from the book again here because it is so telling:

“A gay man with no partner or children may be the one among his adult siblings best suited to move in with, support, and care for an aging parent and grandparent.”

It’s not unusual for unmarried family members to wind up with responsibility for parents or for even siblings’ children, yet it can make them feel like “second class citizens” if they had not been “competitive” enough to have their own children. Yet, this used to be widely accepted as part of family loyalty and cohesion; plenty of movies have been made about it.

Ruth Marcus has an interesting op-ed on the DOMA litigation on p A15 of the Washington Post today (March 4, 2009). The piece is called “A Daring Test Case for Marriage,” link here. She writes “The great unknown of constitutional law is the degree to which guarantees of due process and equal protection extend to gay rights” and that’s obviously the case with issues like gays in the military. Obama has expressed support for gay unions, but his administration’s Justice Department will be obligated to defend the constitutionality of the law. I’m glad I’m not a lawyer working for somebody else, having to make their arguments.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

SLDN: 111th Congress introduces bill to repeal "don't ask don't tell"; more details forthcoming

Earlier today, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) introduced legislation to guarantee the right of people to serve in the military regardless of known sexual orientation. The announcement came in a broadcast email from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and was introduced by Ellen Tasucher (D-CA), and is apparently called the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. The bill is not yet on govtrack and the HR number was not yet announced. Tauscher has introduced several other bills concerning the military in the 111th Congress (2009-2010) .

I'll supply the govtrack or Thomas references as soon as I have it. If a visitor knows it, please comment.

I'm told that SLDN will hold a rally on the West Lawn of the Capitol in Washington DC Friday March 13. Details will be added as known.

The National Gala, "Stronger Military, Stronger America!: SLDN's 17th Annual National Dinner and Silent Auction" announcement is here on the SLDN website.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

"Out Magazine" centerpiece gets it right: think of the "perfect male" as like an (avian) cardinal

Well, Out Magazine really has got it right now. In the March 2009 issue, there appears, about ten unnumbered pages in, a two page promo “Marc from Marc Jacobs” of what appears to be the perfect male. Yes, he’s probably a model or actor. But, instead of the juvenile fantasy of the past, we see a tall, lean twenty-something with a neat beard, reclining on rollers on a marble floor as if in a Northampton hammock, complete with frankly shaggy legs and arms, and a bearish tuft at the neck. (Thankfully, there's no "rose tattoo"!) Thumbing through the magazine, I see that there are plenty of other hairy legs and some celebration of the external trappings of manhood.

Suddenly, gay fashion has gotten it. The male is to be admired for his “masculinity”. For decades, it was women who got admired and socially pampered for their beauty. Now, it’s the man’s turn.

Isn’t it that way in nature? You wake up to chirping outside your window at 5 AM and notice that it’s a brilliant male cardinal. How often among birds is it the male who has the brilliant plumage, whereas the female is more camouflaged to protect the brood? (The Army is pretty good with that.) It’s sometimes true among social mammals. Male lions have manes, which help them establish themselves at the top of a social hierarchy. Tigers, who have biologically identical bodies underneath, don’t make such differentiation in secondary sexual characteristics because they live solitary lives.

Perhaps the editors of Out reread the essay "Notes on the Hairless Man" by David Skinner, "The Weekly Standard" (a "conservative" periodical), June 21, 1999, although it’s not on the web anymore; you have to go to the public library to find it. Ah, we long for the glory days of Alexandria, Egypt.

The issue of Out also has a humorous article on comedy actor and director Andy Samberg, and how SNL (NBC Saturday Night Live) is struggling with how to get straight actors and writers into doing “positive” gay materials – getting beyond the Larry Craig and Ted Haggard “jokes”. How about a skit about the barracks and removing “don’t ask don’t tell”? Even the New Republic once had some political cartoons about dropped soap bars. And there was TNR’s other spoof called “I wouldn’t want YOU”.

As for Out’s spread of the “perfect male”, you probably have to stimulate the economy and go out to a newsstand and pay the $4.99 for a hardcopy. Sorry, I can’t legally reproduce it here. Gay magazines, just like all newspapers, badly need revenue today to stay afloat. Consumers need to actually pay for some things.

But consider the example “Out” has set. One way out of the revenue mess, at least for media companies, is to offer commercials so good that people will want to pay to see them. That might be the first “ray of hope” for our economic mess. But what you offer has to express absolute perfection, life as you want it to be, in a world of narcissistic fantasy.