Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween 2009 in DC (17th St this time)

Well, Halloween is lively on the DC Metro, with about two-third of passengers in costumes. On 17th Street in DC, not as many patrons were in costume as the "general population." Cobalt upstairs disco floor was pretty full by about 11 PM, and the liveliest dance moves went on right in the middle of the floor, not on the stage. Curiously, the DJ cut off the music suddenly, as if it had failed, to announce the start of the costume contest, and then resumed the music.

Someone wearing an SLDN "Lift the Ban" shirt got me admitted without a cover charge.

JR's wasn't quite as packed as I expected, but the drag retreat seemed to live on the upstairs landing.

Back at Farragut West Metro, a large crowd assembled, as if to watch an alien autopsy. The costumes tonight included Santa Claus (in October), and a gay male couple with one of the men in the "Reds" hammer and scycle.

So much for All Hallows Eve. All Saints Day must follow. I love that hymn "For all the saints."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Washington Post hammers VA GOP attorney general candidate on anti-gay "natural law" stance

The Washington Post has an important editorial Friday Oct. 30 about the GOP candidate (Kenneth Cuccinelli) for Attorney General in the Commonwealth of Virginia, “Mr. Cuccinelli’s Bigotry: as attorney general, he would be an embarrassment for Virginia”, link here.

The editorial quotes Cuccinelli’s past comments to the effect (I speak here in the subjunctive mood, as does the editorial) that “homosexual acts are intrinsically wrong … because they don’t comport with ‘natural law’.” He thinks that America is a “natural law-based country”.

This sounds a bit like Vatican theology, that sexuality must always be willing to risk the responsibilities that come with procreation – hence it is owned by traditional marriage.

I do look back upon my own upbringing in the 50s, and remember a component of our thinking then. Life was a gift to you, and you owe your loyalty to your family and your community before you decide on your own course in life and speak up for yourself. Among other things, that meant you helped take care of the family your parents created and you didn’t claim full adulthood until you were able and ready to continue the family by forming one of your own. Speech and rebellion were seen as denial that you had any obligations to others, and homosexuality (especially in men) was seen as a "rejection" of your own family and the social structure that your family provided for others besides you in your family of origin. Society had regarded the family as an essential social "grabularity" and had not yet supported the idea that everyone go out and prove himself away from home. But, ironically, wartime needs (migrating into the Cold War) had made the individual intellect and special talent more valuable in its own right. Starting in the 1960s (even before Stonewall) we started to see the individual as sovereign, and look at harmlessness, rather than familial and community obligation, as a basic moral principle. This would develop into a libertarian political outlook that would become increasingly visible in the 1980s and beyond. (Reagan, ironically, was part of the libertarian trend, even though many LGBT activists don’t see that.)

Cuccinelli, however, brings back the idea of the 50s with his encapsulating phrase “natural law”. The Post did well to remind us of the dangers of our past.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Metro Weekly interviews Daniel Choi, discharged under DADT

West Point Graduate and Arabic linguist 2Lt Daniel Choi, discharged under "don't ask don't tell", gives the Metro Weekly and interview with Sean Bugg in last weekend's issue here. The Feature Story is titled "Daniel's Choice: Faced with a decision between living with integrity or living a lie, this West Point grad chose honesty."

Choi came out publicly after the California Proposition 8 battle, and talks to the Metro about his experience in the National Equality March, which he says was necessary to support lobbyists and politician on the Hill. He also discusses the "denial" by his Korean parents.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

DC: gay marriage opponents drag DOMA into court fight over referendum; ME: Gov urgers voters not to repeal gay marriagr

The Washington Post reports on Tuesday Oct. 27 (story by Tim Craig) that opponents of same-sex marriage will start of court fight to overturn DC’s law (recognizing out of state gay marriages) and force a referendum, and that the court arguments will invoke the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), link here.

And in Maine, Democratic governor John Baldacci encouraged voters not to overturn the right of gays to marry in a referendum in November, according to an AP story. The link is here. In the past, Baldacci has opposed same-sex marriagr.

NBC polls now report that 41% of the population supports same-sex marriage, as opposed to less than 30% a few years ago.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Senate will solicit comments from Pentagon on ending DADT; AF nurse challenges policy, testing Obama administration

Top Pentagon brass, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are being consulted about how to end “don’t ask don’t tell” according to a story in the Washington Blade Oct. 23, link here.

Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) , from the Armed Services Committee, is leading the effort to obtain comments. Udall says that the president and Democratic leadership in Congress are committed to finding a constructive way to end the discriminatory policy.

In the meantime, Air Force Major Margaret Witt is preparing a new challenge to the DADT law, with hearings due in Sept. 2010, putting the Obama administration in the cumbersome position of defending the constitutionality of the 1993 law (signed by Clinton) in court while trying to end DADT politically. Levi Pulkkinen has a story in the Seattle paper here. The president says that he does not have the executive authority to end the policy without Congress, despite some legal scholars who say that he does.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

DC closes "social club" for zoning violations: a "libertarian" issue?

The Washington Blade has a front page story Oct. 23, 2009 by Lou Chibbaro, Jr., “D.C. Court closes Men’s Parties following death: Attorney general says gatherings occurred without a business license,” link here.

I attended one of these parties in the 1990s, and I seem to recall that at one time there was an age limit. You called a phone number to get the location. The entity says that it is a “non-profit gathering” but the District of Columbia says that is a “business.” So the case is turning into an example-setter of concern to libertarians, about zoning laws. Zoning concerns do affect the operation of gay bars and gay clubs as a whole. This has been an issue of particular interest to libertarians.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

DC Reel Affirmations holds closing night party: a second chance to see "The Big Gay Musical"

Tonight I made it to the Reel Affirmations LGBT film festival in Washington DC closing night party, but not until after a five-hour power outage at home in Arlington. It seems that Dominion Power skimps on maintenance, so that customers lose out anytime there is even a slight storm. The party took place on the second floor pavilion of the Harman Center of the Shakespeare Theater Company at 6th and F in Washington DC, near the Verizon Center. The space was small compared to venues of the past (an open tent behind the Lincoln Theater in Cardozo). But some of the cast was there.

I got to see most of the film “The Big Gay Musical”, directed by Casper Andreas and Fred M. Caruso, on the plasma screens at the party, but have not heard the music yet. I could tell that the story had to do with beating back the ex-gay stuff. There was a lot of “intimacy”, and it seemed that the grand total count (SQL function!) of body hairs of the male cast was zero, so there must have been a lot of waxing or epilation of the cast—it looked a bit artificial. The website for the film is here. “When you try to be the person you’re not…”

I’ll review in full when I can find/buy a DVD or watch on Logo (haven’t checked Logo yet). I’ve heard it will be in theaters in February 2010 (TLA? Strand Releasing?)

Afterwards, at Town DC in Cardozo (neae the Lincoln Theater, the site for Reel Affirmations in previous years) a lean guy from the audience really "got it" from the drag queens (forced shirt removal) on stage, and what followed was a replay of Baltimore's White Party. The crowd builds up there once the Saturday night college football games finish at nearby Nellie's sports bar. It's all strange bedfellows.

Update:  There is a review on my movies blog of "The Big Gay Musical" Aug. 17, 2011; the film is now available from Netflix.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Senate passes hate crimes bill

The United States Senate has passed the bill protecting gays from hate crimes, according to a Baltimore Sun story by James Oliphant, link here. The bill is named for Matthew Shepard, but some Senate Republicans didn’t like its being tied to the defense bill. The vote was 68-29. The story was featured in Google headline news to its account members.

October 28, 2009

President Obama signed the hate crimes law today, link to AP story by Ben Feller here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Conservative paper criticizes Obama's safe schools czar on glbt education

The Washington Times has an unkind, ungentle editorial Friday on our schools, “More dangerous ideas from Obama’s ‘safe schools’ czar”, link here.

The editorial discusses Kevin Jennings, author of a 1998 book “Queering Elementary Education: Advancing the Dialogue about Sexualities and Schooling (Curriculum, Cultures, and (Homo)Sexualities,” published by Rowman and Littlefield.

I had a contribution on this topic in high schools published in Greenhaven’s “Opposing Viewpoints” series, link here.

To me, grade school sounds a bit early for a social agenda like this. But I think high school students can be taught the “existential” problems with the “family values” debate in social studies courses. Some high schools offer sociology as a social studies elective, and that sounds like an appropriate place.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

218 votes in House needed to overturn "don't ask don't tell"

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) now reports that there are 180 cosponsors of legislation to end “don’t ask don’t tell” in the House of Representatives. The desired number is 218, and SLDN has a map “The Road to 218” here. Again, the bill is HR 1283 with govtrack reference web URL here.

Yet, Cal Thomas had an op-ed in The Washington Times on Thursday Oct. 15, “Don’t Ask, Tell or Legitamize: mission is national defense, not experimental psychology”, link here. He says he is sympathetic to Joseph Rocha, the gay sailor who was taunted by fellow sailors for his supposed lack of interest in girls. Then he does a military about face (remember Drill and Ceremonies?) and says that anecdote is the wrong place to start the argument. Ultimately, his whole point is existential. This is about the welfare of the group, not about fairness to or “equality among” individuals, he says.

But “equality” works both ways. If people can’t take equal responsibility or share risks equitably because of supposed “character defects”, then society will expropriate their lives in other ways.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

DC Police cuts budget on GLBT unit

Washington DC police chief Cathy Lanier has frozen hiring for the Gay and Lesbian Unit of the Metropolitan Police Department, because of budget pressures. Because there are some muggings and attacks, particularly on side streets, in the Dupont Circle, Shaw and Adams Morgan areas, gay community leaders have been critical, as they have been at lackadaisical prosecution of at least one recent beating death. The story is by Theola Labbe-Debose, “No New Hires In Gay Police Unit: Residents Point to Rise in Hate Crimes As D.C. Initiative Is Diluted to Cut Costs”, link here. Nevertheless, the House recently passed a hate crimes bill.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

National Equality March: festive if underwhelming, on a perfect fall day

The National Equality March took place in Washington today at noon, and I arrived at the rally on the West steps of the Capitol at about 3:30. C-SPAN started coverage at 2 PM. The Main website now is “Equality Across America”, here.

The event did not seem as overwhelming and transcendent as the 1993 march (just after Andrew Sullivan had published his famous New Republic piece on “The Politics of Homosexuality”), or even the 2000 march. (As October events go, it was nowhere like the “Million Man March” of 1995. There aren't as many shorts in October.) Some of the speakers sounded more radical than at past events, almost as if “mainstream” gay organizations like HRC (at whose dinner President Obama spoke last night) and SLDN were part of the capitalist “establishment”. (The Socialist Workers Party was well represented.) Well, as far as mainstream western “democratic capitalism” that the US and Europe want to export, they probably are.

Kate Clinton spoke (I can’t quite recall her jokes how), as did Cleve Jones, and a 13-year-old from Montana.

Judy Shepard spoke, as captured by CNN.

In general, there was an impression that Obama’s speech was mostly talk with little evidence of action or quantifiable "resume accomplishments" (although, come on, the House just passed the hate crimes bill).

Rep. Barney Frank ("Bailout Barney" and "don't punish the country" -- and remember what Dick Armey -- 'dem Republicans -- called him) downplayed the March -- but, they say, Frank is a professional politician, and activism must work bottoms up, with more solidarity, however.

Later, my Sunfish cap caught the attention of someone else in the Navy Reserves, and I explained (as I do in Chapter 4 of my first book) about my own 1993 submarine visit when I was preparing to write a book (and use an indirect line to the Clinton White House). He had served on submarines and said that some subs do have openly gay sailors without problems today.

Washington Post presents compelling story of Joseph Rocha, sailor who resigned under "don't ask don't tell"

The Washington Post Outlook section followed up on the president’s speech at HRC with a detailed autobiographical piece by Joseph Rocha, “I didn’t tell, it didn’t matter,” as the lead story in the Outlook Section on Oct. 11, the day of the Equality March. The link is here.

The writer was a sailor, stationed in Bahrain as a military dog handler, describes how he was pummeled constantly for not showing heterosexual interest (that’s “telling” by contraposition, I guess). His narrative includes his processing for officer boot camp and the Naval Academy prep school, but of his decision to resign under the policy, and the clumsy processing of his “telling” letter. Finally, he was honorably discharged with full benefits.

It’s quite a story. It would make a good book, maybe even a movie.

In the past, on these blogs and in my books and websites, I've discussed Joseph Steffan's 1992 book "Honor Bound: A Gay American Fights for the Right to Serve His Country", about Mr. Steffan's discharge from the Naval Academy in 1987 for "telling" just before graduating near the top of his class. That incident, however, occurred under the "old" policy put in place in 1987 (the famous 123 words, "Homosexuality is incompatible with military service..") so well documented by Randy Shilts in his 1993 book "Conduct Unbecoming."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Obama at HRC dinner: "I will end 'don't ask don't tell"; and an impassioned call for individual rights

President Barack Obama urged Congress to pass all of his initiatives ending discrimination against gays and lesbians in his 20-minute speech that started at 8:10 PM tonight at the Human Rights Campaign Annual Dinner at the Washington Convention Center.

The president opened his speech with a reference to “old arguments” that were used to deny gays and lesbians their rights. He seemed to be noting the existential (as well as conventionally religious) nature of some arguments circulating on the Web today about the notion that the “family” should be the focus of identity rather than the individual, contradicting progressive ideas of equality on an individual level.

The largest single announcement was the passing of the Hate Crimes bill in the House, which the president says has taken ten years, ever since Matthew Shepard was beaten to death near Laramie Wyoming eleven years ago this month.

I will end ‘don’t ask don’t tell’, and that's my commitment to you", the president promised shortly thereafter, with some defiance. However the Whitehouse says that it takes an act of Congress (as introduced as part of the Military Readiness Act); that an executive order alone does not work legally (others say that it would). The president was critical of attitudes that question the fitness of soldiers performing bravely in theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan, when we need them.

The president also noted that LGBT Americans are affected by all the major issues and noted that many LGBT people write and work in major policy issues outside of “gay rights” itself.

Toward the end of the speech, the president encouraged Congress to repeal DOMA and said that gay and lesbian couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples, but stopped short of using the term “gay marriage.”

The president told the story of the founding of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) by a mother of a young man arrested in 1969 at the Stonewall riots. When the police called her qt 1 AM that June 1969 morning, she asked “Why are you bothering him?”

The president also discussed reinventing the Ryan White initiative.

Joe Solmonese gave the introduction, also carried on C-SPAN, in which he discussed some of the unfortunate rhetoric in opposition to some of the president’s progressive initiatives.

Here is the C-SPAN link for the speech (no embed code offered).

CNN has the videos now:

Here's the complete HRC Backstory link for the speech with all other CNN embeds.

Earlier today, some "joggers in red" decorated the Mall in advance of the Equality March Sunday, as I headed up to the Solar Decathlon. Even Landmark E-Street today seemed to gather a crowd in anticipation of tomorrow.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Washington Post summarizes legal arguments around DC gay marriage strategy; House passes hate crimes bill

Take note of the Editorial in the Washington Post on Friday, October 9, about the time of “national coming out day” and just before the Equality March on Washington. The title is “A Right to Have and to Hold: The D.C. Council takes a major step toward legalizing same-sex marriage”. The link is here.

The Post describes the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009, introduced by David A. Catania (I-At-Large), as a second step, following on to the recognition of same-sex marriages from other states. The editorial discusses the clever concept that the Council can bar initiative or referendum (trying to strike down the “step 1”) on the theory that the initiative itself denies equal protection of the law. (Somehow that reminds me of analysis by my friend in the UK, Philip Chandler, on his “gay equality and the law” blog (link.

The New York Times this morning offers detailed coverage of the House’s vote to expand hate crime coverage to include gays and lesbians, in a story by Carl Hulse, here. The reader can check the New York Times link on Matthew Shepard.

Some "Republicans" have objected to the new bill on the theory that it punishes “thought crimes” and undermines respect for the law as an abstract element of society. But Randy Shilts, in his 1993 book “Conduct Unbecoming”, had a chapter called “Thoughtcrimes” that characterized the US military as the first entity since the Third Reich that tried to punish “homosexual thoughts.”

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Anderson Cooper 360 examines Obama on gay equality; President Obama to give keynote address at HRC dinner Oct. 10

Tonight (Oct. 8) Anderson Cooper, on AC360, examined President Obama’s record so far on his promises on gay rights, saying he was keeping the president honest.

The president has lagged somewhat on four major promises: (1) repealing “don’t ask don’t tell”; (2) opposing DOMA (the president generally says he prefers civil unions), a hate crimes bill (the Matthew Shepard view which has just passed the House), and ENDA, which may move soon. Randy Kay reported.

Then Anderson interviewed Equality March organizer Cleve Jones about the Oct. 11 march in Washington DC. Jones (who appears as a hero in Randy Shilts’s “And the Band Played On”) said that this would not be a weekend for partying, but for work. (Nevertheless, I see that the Town DC has an extra T-dance Sunday night).

President Obama will deliver the keynote address at the 13th Annual Human Rights Campaign Dinner on Saturday October 10, 2009 at the at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., at Mt. Vernon Place on the Yellow Line. HRC’s press release is here.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Bill Clinton blames gay leadership for 1993 debacle leading to "don't ask don' tell"

I notice an editorial by Kevin Naff in The Washington Blade, back on Aug. 21, 2009, “’Don’t Ask’ is our fault? Angry Clinton points fingers, revises history at Netroots outburst,” link here.

Naff writes that Clinton was speaking at Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh, when he criticized gay leadership for not supporting him in Congress and for naively assuming he could push forward an executive order lifting the ban, given the political climate in 1993.

He also said that he supports gay marriage, but that the issue should be left to the states (Obama more or less says that), conveniently ignoring the issue of federal benefits for legal spouses.

On Oct. 2, Naff had a great editorial on the difficulty police (in Washington DC, at least) and district attorneys have in prosecuting hate crimes against gay men from racial minorities. Recently, someone got off with 180 days for assault for beating a gay man to death, with the prosecution noting that the victim’s inebriation could have contributed to his death.