March 24, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Following up on my post yesterday about the stark contrast between the "elegant activism" of Joe Solmonese and the direct action activism of Dan Choi, a reader pointed me to some recent data about the salary on which Solmonese affords his Ann Demeulemeester, Billy Reid and D&G.
According to a Washington Blade report based on 2008 numbers, Solmonese was paid $338,400, a staggering sum that practically doubles the measly $176,000 that Kim Gandy got paid that year to run the National Organization for Women. The Solmonese salary is a good deal higher even than the governors of all 50 states -- Arnold Schwarzenegger tops the list at $206,500, though he waives compensation. Even the President of the United States earns only slightly more, at $400,000.
The point isn't just how much Solmonese rakes in or the types of clothes he wears. Especially given the FAIL he has to show for the millions he has already earned at HRC, the image he projects is symbolic salt in the wound for the LGBT Americans who he supposedly represents. It is a mixed message to say the least for one of Washington's highest paid lobbyists to be leading a movement of people who claim to suffer from discrimination in the workplace.
More importantly, Dan Choi's message of service and sacrifice is far more empowering and inspiring than Solmonese's message of Dolce and Gabbana.
We can only imagine how things might look if Dan Choi were at the helm of the Human Rights Campaign.
March 23, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Joe Solmonese favors Dolce & Gabbana. Dan Choi favors your equality. The two images could not contrast more completely:
On the one hand, there's West Point graduate Dan Choi in uniform, handcuffed to the White House fence in the form of Jesus on the cross, sacrificing his career for the fight against Don't Ask Don't Tell. On the other, there's Joe Solmonese, paid a cool million every couple of years to run the Human Rights Campaign, named "The Elegant Activist" in the 2010 Fashion Awards in the new issue of Washington Life magazine.
Solmonese, perched next to Count Renault de Viel Castel, tells Washington Life that he favors designers Ann Demeulemeester, Billy Reid, and Dolce and Gabbana.
Tellingly, Choi had asked Solmonese and comedienne Kathy Griffin to walk with him from a Don't Ask Don't Tell rally in Freedom Plaza, actually a filming of Griffin's reality show, for the two-block walk to the White House. They declined.
Choi hit the nail on the head in an interview with Newsweek:
Within the gay community so many leaders want acceptance from polite society. I think there's been a betrayal of what is down inside of us in order to achieve what looks popular, what look enviable. The movement seems to be centered around how to become an elite.
There is a deep schism [in the gay-rights movement], everyone knows this. But this shouldn't be about which group has better branding. There is a tremor right now in every gay and transgender youth that these groups are not grasping. I would say to them—you do not represent us if all you are looking for is a ladder in to elite society.
I would take that a step further. It's not just about becoming an elite for Solmonese and his fellow travelers at HRC; it's about access.
Access is power in a town that truly deserves its nickname as "Hollywood for ugly people," and for Solmonese and David Smith and many of those at the top of the staff and board level for HRC, the access they have with the Democrats who run Washington right now is worth too much than risking it on the actual mission of the organization they are entrusted with gazillions from our community to run.
In years past, the void created by HRC's cloying corporatism was filled by the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, or even Queer Nation and ACT UP. These days, those organizations are either gone or have so marginalized themselves by focusing on the fringe of the fringe of our community that they are no longer players.
The grassroots group Join the Impact, which organized those nationwide protests in response to Prop 8's passage, reenergized the movement, even if HRC and the existing architecture of Gay, Inc., was too calcified to notice. Last fall's march on Washington has since given birth to GetEQUAL, which was behind the sit-ins at Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office over her failure to give the Employment Non-Discrimination Act a vote in the House.
There's no reason why the two forms of activism could not co-exist, of course, forming the sort of good cop/bad cop combination that worked so effectively in the early days of the AIDS crisis, when those with access used the ACT UP street theater as leverage with the CDC and Big Pharma to push through earlier availability of HIV medications and greater commitment to research for treatments.
But good cop/bad cop requires an effective activist on the inside, able to move the ball forward with politicians who naturally look for cover, not for opportunities to stick their own necks out. Unfortunately, there's no indication that Solmonese's elegant activism approaches that level of effectiveness, unless progress is measured by the number of invitations he gets to White House cocktail events, or by the number of D-List celebrities turn up at black-tie fundraisers.
As Choi put it:
We all know the political reality now. The only way for the repeal to go through is for the president to take leadership and put it in the Defense Authorization Bill. There's a sunset on this, and it's happening quickly. Obama told us at the HRC dinner last year, you need to put pressure on me. I was there at that dinner, in uniform. So this is my mission; the president said to pressure him and I heard that as a warning order.
March 15, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Stop me if you've heard this before. Once again, Democrats in Congress are blaming President Obama for putting the brakes on Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal, as if the White House introduces legislation that the House and Senate can then vote on.
This time around, the finger-pointer is none other than Barney Frank, he that refuses to co-sponsor repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, in an interview with The Advocate's Kerry Eleveld:
But just as the White House has pushed other legislation into the forefront only to back away and watch the congressional fireworks from afar, so it seems to be with ending the military’s gay ban. As Rep. Barney Frank told me Friday, “I’m disappointed with the administration talking about delaying legislation for a year. But I’m working with Patrick Murphy [the lead sponsor of the House repeal bill] on it and I’m hoping we can push ahead.”
Frank has pinpointed the National Defense Authorization Act as “the only vehicle” for overturning the ban legislatively. When I noted that the White House has failed to designate the defense authorization bill over a stand-alone bill as its preferred method for repealing the policy, Frank responded, “That’s because they don’t want it done this year, not because they want it done separately.”
Yes, it's frustrating and disappointing that the president hasn't continued to push DADT repeal as companion legislation for the just-launched Pentagon review of the gays in the military issue. And yes, that Pentagon review could have been been launched a year ago.
But why does Barney Frank, of all people, need leadership from the White House to get the ball rolling on including DADT repeal in the Defense Authorization bill. Is this the same openly congressman who controls the fate of financial reform legislation from his post as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee?
Barney and Andrew Tobias and the gay Democratic elite have been telling us for years that if they controlled Congress, gay rights bills would receive a big push. When they won control in 2006, they said the big push would have to wait until a Democrat won the White House.
Enough with the waiting, and enough with the finger-pointing. Show some leadership, Barney. It's your civil rights at issue here, not Barack Obama's. We are the ones we have been waiting for.
March 14, 2010
Posted by: Chris
The abrupt resignation of New York Congressman Eric Massa seemed ideal for a SNL send-up, replete with stories of naked shower chats with Rahm Emanuel, tickle fights with his all-bachelor flatmates, self-described "Caligula orgies" naval initiations, and -- of course -- the allegations of "snorkeling" his fellow sailors.
Possibly for that very reason, or because it's more painful than humorous to watch the slow-motion trainwreck that is Massa's career and personal life, the skit that opened last night's SNL was among the least funny I can recall.
Anyone want to wager how long it takes Republicans to capitalize on Massa's Navy hijinks as an example of why lifting the ban on service by openly gay service members can undermine unit cohesion?
March 04, 2010
Posted by: Chris
My friend Mike Almy did a fantastic job on Rachel Maddow's show tonight, putting the lie to claims by John McCain and Joe ("You Lie!") Wilson that Don't Ask Don't Tell is working. Mike was discharged as a major in the Air Force in the midst of a deployment in Iraq during the height of the insurgency and replaced by a junior officer ill-prepared for the command thrust upon him.
The victim of DADT wasn't just Mike, and his 18-year-career, but the cohesion of his unit, the troops under his command, and their mission at a critical time during war. Mike's story turns on its head the claim that now is not the time to repeal DADT "in the midst of two wars," though one of those is drawing to a close. The disruption comes from the continued existence and enforcement of the policy, not from its repeal.
February 19, 2010
Posted by: ChrisUPDATE: At the end of the post.
Over at Gay Patriot, my friend Dan (a.k.a. Gay Patriot West) writes that he's confused by the reaction that Bruce Carroll is receiving as that blog's representative at the CPAC conference here in D.C. this weekend:
So, you’re at a gathering of conservatives . . . and . .
Folks couldn’t be nice to a guy bearing a badge identifying himself as a gay blogger?!?!?
They give a standing ovation to a man who opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment and favors repeal of Don’t Talk/Don’t Tell?!?!?
How could that be!?!?!?
I thought our critics told us conservatives don’t like homosexuals and that preventing any forward motion on gay issues was anathema to their agenda, such that they’d blackball anyone who paid so much as lip service to such issues.
I share Dan's confusion but for different reasons. Surely Bruce has spent enough time around Washington to know that polite smiles and applause mean nothing if they're not followed up with votes and co-sponsorship and party planks, etc.
I'm always happy when my gay conservative and Republican friends join me in calling out Democrats and progressives who only give our cause lip service, and nothing more. So why are they so excited when on rare occasions they are get that same lip service, and nothing more?
It's unquestionably a good thing anytime the presence of out gay bloggers is greeted by conservative smiles and a call for equality receives a CPAC standing ovation. But we are long, long past the day when anything short of co-sponsorship and votes in support of DOMA/DADT repeal were cause for self-congratulation.
UPDATE: It wasn't even lip service to opposition to a marriage amendment and repeal of DADT that got a standing ovation. It was Dick Cheney, who (sort of) holds those positions but said nothing about them at CPAC. He only walked in after his daughter Liz finished speaking and made a few off-the-cuff remarks.
Gentlemen... please... we can hold the bar higher than this, can't we?
February 18, 2010
Posted by: Chris
After promises of greater transparency, the Human Rights Campaign responded in part to the blog swarm from earlier this week by releasing its roadmap to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell. While it's fine as far as it goes, the roadmap is so vague and conservative that it's likely to leave gay service members quaking in their boots more than members of Congress.
HRC is stating its DADT repeal effort will be focused on five "key principles":
- Continued Presidential Leadership: We have — and will continue to — call on the White House to include DADT repeal language in the 2011 Department of Defense authorization bill. HRC Legislative Director Allison Herwitt made that clear in this story by the DC Agenda on Jan. 11.
- Congressional Action in 2010: We believe that legislative action must run on a parallel track with the work of the DOD implementation review. We have — and will continue to — press the Senate to include repeal language in the final mark up of this year’s DOD authorization bill.
- Gates/Mullen review: While the testimony of Gates and Mullen marked a historic and extraordinary move towards final repeal of DADT, HRC is advocating that the announced review is comprehensive and expeditious, and includes input from lesbian and gay service members and veterans. We will work to ensure the Working Group established by Secretary Gates will have all the data and information necessary to address any and all implementation issues.
- Strategic Partnerships: HRC will continue to partner with key groups and Congressional allies working toward repeal including the Center for American Progress, Servicemembers United and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. By continuing to pool our resources, contacts and intelligence, we can meet the opposition head on and build even greater momentum for repeal.
- Voices of Veterans: HRC’s “Voices of Honor” campaign is organizing veterans across the country to generate media, grassroots and grass tops pressure in key states that will be critical to the final votes in the House and Senate. The campaign builds on the work of the national “Voices of Honor Tour” last summer which led to 30 new Congressional co-sponsors and garnered national media attention to this discriminatory law.
It's good to see HRC committed at least to getting DADT repeal language into the Defense Department budget bill now working its way through Congress, rather than letting the ongoing Pentagon review to delay legislative action until next year. But, to paraphrase Mike Dukakis paraphrasing a Wendy's ad, where's the beef?
Where's the call on HRC members and others to call Congress, complete with a phone number or a link to find out who your representatives are? Which senators and representatives has HRC identified as wavering and of those, which are most crucial to get on board now? At this point, it's not enough to know that your congressional delegation supports DADT review as a general matter. We need to know where they stand on repealing DADT now as part of the DOD authorization bill.
Why hasn't HRC launched a "public whip count" on including DADT repeal in the DOD budget bill, the way ACT on Principles has produced one (complete with blog widgets) on the issue of DADT repeal generally? (You can see the ACT on Principles widget on the lefthand side of this blog.)
For those interested in what a roadmap ought to look like, in terms of proposing a specific way forward legislatively, take a look at the SEDI plan proposed by Servicemembers United, one of those "strategic partnerships" that HRC cites above:
A Set End-date / Delayed Implementation (SEDI) model is ideal for achieving the goals of all parties involved, and reporting benchmarks are reasonable to ensure that sufficient progress is being made toward the ultimate goal of developing the most effective implementation plan.
Most importantly, the process of working to lock in full legislative repeal of DADT and the Pentagon’s development of the most effective repeal implementation plan can occur simultaneously.18-Month Set End-date / Delayed Implementation (SEDI) Model
- Immediately; Pentagon Working Group begins; Legislation introduced to lock in repeal
- After 3 months: Deadline for interim changes to policy enforcement; First report to Congress
- After 6 months – Second report to Congress on progress of repeal implementation planning
- After 9 months – Third report to Congress on progress of repeal implementation panning
- After 12 months - Repeal implementation begins according to plan established by Pentagon
- After 18 months – Full repeal completed; Final report to Congress
This plan, developed by discharged Army translator Alexander Nicholson of Servicemembers United and Rear Adm. Alan Steinman, USPHS/USCG (Ret.), lays out a clear and detailed two-track process that allows the Pentagon review to go forward without delaying the legislative piece until that review is completed next year.
If a loose-knit group of activists like ACT on Principles and a small, relatively new organization like Servicemembers United can produce concrete tools like these, why is it so impossible for "the nation's largest gay political group," as HRC refers to itself ad nauseum?
February 17, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Since moving back to Washington a few weeks back, I've had the pleasure of reconnecting with Phil Attey, a friend I know from his days on the Human Rights Campaign communication staff. (Yes, I have friends at HRC; I even dated an HRC staffer a number of years ago -- is that the equivalent of "having one over for dinner"?).
After leaving HRC in the late '90s, Phil has been at the cutting edge of leveraging the Internet and social networking to bring about change (yes, the kind we can believe in). A lifelong Catholic, Phil will very soon be calling on the lessons learned as an LGBT Netroots pioneer in the launch of a sorely needed effort at answering on their own terms those who misuse religion in politics to deny us civil equality.
Phil and I don't always see eye to eye on tactics, but he's no knee-jerk defender of his former employer and I appreciate the way he challenges those of us throw bombs from our blogs to use our voices in a positive way as well. Along those lines, I'd like to share something he posted on Facebook -- Sarah Palin-style -- in response to the blog swarm targeting HRC that I joined yesterday.
It's worth taking the time to read, and I join him in directing our primary focus where repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and other gay rights progress presently is mired -- in the hallowed halls of Congress.
Yesterday, a group of our most prominent bloggers joined forces to ask their combined audiences to make phone calls on DADT. The idea of this excited me, as along with some great Facebook activists have been advocating for months, a united online call to action to flood Congress with phone calls on the issue.
Sadly, instead of calls to Congress, they were joining forces to shut down the phone lines of our nation's largest pro lgbt equality group. Can you just see Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck salivating?
My intent is not to shame the bloggers or finger point. We don't have the luxury of such time. Reality Check: We only have a few months to ensure the DADT repeal is included in this Spring's Defense Authorization Bill, and we need to focus on real action.
Besides, these bloggers are my friends and heroes ... and valued voices in our movement.
Trying to keep this positive, here are three things they could easily combine their forces to accomplish that would not only help to repeal DADT, but spark a grassroots excitement in the progressive community that after we elected President Obama, we've completely lost on the left:
1. Promote a CALL CONGRESS Day for the next Senate or House Hearing on DADT.
Have a graphic designer create a stylish logo, give it a catchy name, and join forces to create an online echo chamber to bring our entire community on board. Trust me, if you do this, all of us on Facebook will help you pull it off and praise you for it!
2. Call for a National "March Into Washington" Lobby Day on Capitol Hill.
Show the critics of the recent March on Washington that marches actually can be used to move Members of Congress on our issues. No money needed, no lofty speeches, just set a day with enough time in advance for folks to get cheap flights to DC, provide them with talking points on DADT and include a link for them to look up the office numbers for each of their Senators and Representative. 250,000 people walking through the Senate and House buildings and into offices would have an impact the likes of which Washington has never seen.
3. Call of a National Day of Congressional District Action.
Let's take a page from Tea Party. Poke fun at them all you want. Call them Teabaggers, racists, bigots, whatever, but please don't disrespect the reality that they just kicked all our progressive asses when it came to Health Care Reform. Not even my hero Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake was able to counter their grassroots influence on the HCR debate. Call for rallies and Congressional District meetings with every Member of Congress when they'll be back home during their next recess. And if you don't think you can actually organize/inspire our community to do our own rallies, at least learn from the great work ACT UP did with their 1992 "What ABOUT AIDS" signs, and create ones our activists can take to hijack the Tea Party Rallies that will be happening across the country on Tax Day, April 15th. ... DADT WASTES MY TAX DOLLARS ... REPEAL IT NOW!
Is it pollyanna to think this will actually happen? Maybe. But as Willie Wonka said to Veruca Salt, "We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams"
It's time to make some music. It's time to make some dreams come true.
Yours in the united stand for equality,
Posted by: Chris
Yesterday I joined those who sponsored a blog swarm of the Human Rights Campaign, albeit focusing Solmonese, Smith & Co. on Congress, not exclusively on the White House. As one reader points out, it was not particular efficient to ask people to lobby HRC to get them to lobby President Obama to get him to lobby Congress.
Support for the swarm was broad and included at least one surprise entrant, considering its target was a gay rights group, not Congress: another gay group, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:
We join the Swarm’s call for DADT repeal this year. The best way to erase the law from the books in 2010 is for there to be a provision included in the defense authorization budget that nixes the law and replaces it with a policy of nondisrimination. We urge the President and Congress to include this provision in the defense authorization budget bill in the coming weeks. (This defense bill is currently being drafted.)
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has to be repealed this year. That has been the Human Rights Campaign’s position from the start, and at this point there is no one in the White House who does not know it. We and the community to whom we are accountable agree: This is the year.
We firmly support including repeal in the annual Department of Defense Authorization bill, and have not only indicated as much, but continue to make that case, all while working to gain support for the Military Readiness Enhancement Act....
We have been lobbying the White House relentlessly, and we’ve seen more movement in recent weeks than in the previous 16 years. Our nation’s top defense officials testified, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell should be repealed. That did not happen in a vacuum.
These events are just the start. There is a clear path to repeal, and that’s the one we’re on.
Note that missing entirely from the HRC response is any mention whatsoever of the other end of Pennsylvania, where that "clear path to repeal" must next pass through. Owing to the misguided focus of the swarm on President Obama, rather than Congress, HRC wriggles its way free without angering (or pressuring) its Democratic friends on Capitol Hill.
February 16, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Apparently I'm not the only one to notice that for an inside-the-Beltway organization, the Human Rights Campaign appears out of the loop when it comes to pushing for repeal this year of Don't Ask Don't Tell.
The Advocate's Kerry Eleveld put together an excellent report that asks whether HRC under Joe Solmonese is producing anything like the results that could be expected for the amount of resources that "the nation's largest gay political group" siphons from our community. And today, a number of gay progressive bloggers have launched a "blog swarm" targeting HRC.
Eleveld's video report -- anchored by Thomas Roberts, formerly of CNN Headline News, who it's great to see here -- offers Solmonese and longtime behind-the-scenes string-puller Hilary Rosen the opportunity to make the case for HRC's effectiveness, and… well… lets just say that hopefully they do a better of job of advocacy for our rights.
"HRC needs to be as strategic as possible, as accountable as possible, to every member of our community to be laser-focused on what I call closing these very important deals." — Joe Solmonese, HRC president
"I think they are focused on their mission, I think they work for LGBT equality, I think they work for the movement and I think they feel that responsibility really strongly. At the same time I don't think it's an indictment that somebody wants to strategize with them behind closed doors. That to me is something we should be a proud of." — Hilary Rosen, lobbyist and former HRC chair
What those substance-free defenses fail to mask is what's obvious to many: The entire premise for HRC, formerly the Human Rights Campaign Fund, is that our movement needed an organization run by insiders who know how to leverage our community's small size into big results, to play the good cop to the street activists' bad cop, to play ball with the politicians, even as the rest of the movement protests outside the ballpark.
What happened is that Hilary Rosen's ex-wife, longtime HRC executive director Elizabeth Birch, grew HRC into the org that ate the movement, and we were left with only a good cop playing ball with the pols, and not particularly effectively at that. Only in the last several years, with the rise of the blogosphere, the net roots and a new generation of activists has the movement revitalized as something more than a black-tie dinner that relied on its checkbook to buy its equality.
Solmonese, who has headed up the organization since 2005, represents the culmination of the HRC model, a designer label lobbyist whose primary qualification for running the gay rights movement was that he sitteth at the right hand of Rosen, Birch and Emily's List founder Ellen Malcolm. Alongside David Smith, who has been running HRC "strategery" since before most bloggers were born, Solmonese and company have sucked millions from the movement and managed to botch the very tasks they were supposedly so suited to handle.
These consummate lobbyists gave us the legislative debacle back in 2008 over including, then not including, then promising to include, then jettisoning, transgender rights in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. They backed the wrong horse -- that other HRC whose husband gave us DADT and DOMA -- in the Democratic primary, and despite the Democrats historic grip on D.C., they have failed to either mobilize the community or leverage their resources on Capital Hill, to get anything more than hate crimes enacted into law.
So yes, the blog swarm makes good sense, though its sponsors make their own strategic miscues. Their aim is for HRC to "publicly demand that President Obama take the lead in getting DADT repealed this year," meaning:
1. That means the president needs to state publicly that he wants Congress to repeal DADT this year; and
2. The president needs to take the lead in working with Congress to make sure the repeal happens.
As goals go, these should induce more head-scratching that game-changing. All this effort to get the leading gay rights to make a public demand that the president say something he already said, complete with timetable, in his very first State of the Union address.
More broadly, it repeats the very mistake HRC has been making since even before Barack Obama's inauguration, focusing attention on the wrong end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The president made his public commitment and dispatched his leading Defense Department deputies to make his case to Congress.
Now it's time for the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate, which has been demanding our allegiance and our dollars for almost as long as HRC, to get repeal done, making a moratorium and repeal itself a part of the defense budget now working its way through Congress.
I strongly encourage readers of this blog to join in making calls to HRC, but to make a point of focusing their attention on Congress as well as the president, and demanding a DADT moratorium and repeal be included as part of the Defense Department budgetary legislation.
But even as we make these calls or send these emails, let's remember that we cannot simply sit back and expect HRC to do all the heavy lifting for us. That's why John Aravosis over at AmericaBlog claims, "You've done your job. Now it's time for the President, Congress and HRC to do theirs," even as he's telling his readers it's their job to call HRC. Our work -- all of our work -- remains unfinished.
Ultimately, our equality is all our responsibility, and it's up to each and every one of us to keep the pressure on all the key players -- within our movement and our government -- to dispense with business as usual in Washington and end the gross injustice done to gay men and lesbians putting their lives on the line for our freedom.
February 15, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Winston Churchill famously said, "The real traditions of the British Navy are rum, buggery and the lash." The same was apparently true for the Army as well.
The most remarkable part of John Crawford's story isn't the 70-year-old's ongoing legal responsibility to report to potential employers his 1959 conviction for "buggery" (a.k.a. sodomy) or even the many jobs he lost and humiliation he endured for admitting to consensual sex as a 19-year-old with his 22-year-old boyfriend.
It's the "enhanced interrogation tactics" the British military and civilian police used to extract the young soldier's confession:
His ordeal began after being posted to Aldershot barracks in Hampshire for military service.
When a gay friend at the barracks went absent without leave, military police turned their attention to Crawford. "They obviously knew he was gay, but they hadn't got anything on him – other than being camp. But they had got me. And if I knew him, then I must be one as well."
Crawford was held in a cell for three weeks, during which he was deprived of sleep by being forced to sit on a chair at night. "They badgered me and badgered me to admit I was a 'fucking queer', and I wouldn't." Then they decided to call in the civilian police.
These officers, he said, started a daily beating that involved wrapping him in blankets while was kicked and punched on the floor. He said he was then placed in a yard each day. Overlooking the yard, he recalled, there was a grassy embankment where hundreds of cadets would sit twice a day to drink tea.
"Can you imagine in the 50s? Oh look there's the 'fucking queer'. I had this from hundreds of people twice a day. I had to sit in this yard. I couldn't go anywhere."
Finally he relented to the pressure and confessed to being gay. Under duress, he told them about Derek, his 22-year-old partner who, months later, found himself with Crawford in the dock at Winchester crown court where both were convicted.
How ironic that all these years later, a leading American conservative like Dick Cheney could throw his support behind allowing gays to serve openly in the military, while in the same interview endorse yet again the same sort of torture that Crawford's tormenters used to beat his confession out of him more than a half-century ago.
February 14, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Why is it that every time it seems the momentum is growing to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, some poorly sourced news article appears predicting the process of repeal will take longer and longer to accomplish?
The last few days brought news that:
- An updated survey of Military Times readers, mostly veterans historically hostile toward open service by gays, showed an even split on the question.
- New polling showed fully three-fourths of Americans generally favor repeal of DADT, including a majority of Republicans and conservatives.
- Lt. Dan Choi, whose outspoken and passionate advocacy as a gay Army reservist has made him the face of DADT repeal efforts, was invited to participate in drills with his unit even though he has been facing discharge over the policy.
- Moderate senators on the Armed Services Committee threw their support behind the review of the policy announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
- Former Vice President Dick Cheney, the voice of GOP conservatives on issues of national security, came out in favor of the review as well, and signaled that the time has come to end the ban:
"When the chiefs come forward and say, ‘We think we can do it,’ then it strikes me as it’s time to reconsider the policy, and I think Admiral Mullen said that,” Cheney said during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”
Cheney said the U.S. military supported “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993 when the law banning open service was put in place, but said “things have changed, significantly, since then” and predicted the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as it currently stands.
“I see that … Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint of Chiefs of Staff, has indicated he is belief that we ought to support change in the policy, so I think that — my guess is the policy will be changed,” Cheney said.
When Karl pressed Cheney further on whether he personally supports repeal, Cheney said said “it’s partly a generational issue” and he’s “reluctant to second guess the military” because “they’re the ones that have got to make the judgment on how these policies affect the military capability of our units.”
And yes despite all these positive developments, an AP story by Anne Flaherty in today's New York Times predicted "a complete repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy is probably years away":
The two officials appointed to lead a yearlong internal assessment -- Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, and Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson -- met for the first time on Feb. 9.
As that study gets under way, officials were expected by mid-March to suggest ways to relax enforcement of the law. Of particular interest is minimizing cases of ''third party outings,'' where a service member is kicked out after being reported by others to be gay.
The protracted time line is about more than giving military leaders time to assess the impact on troops and put new rules in place. The multiyear process also is a strategic way of getting troops used to the idea before they have to accept change. Politically, the time line puts off congressional debate over lifting the ban until after elections this fall.
The entire story is sourced to unnamed "senior defense and military officials," and fails to abide by a New York Times policy that requires at a minimum that such anonymous sources explain why they will not talk on the record.
Shoddy journalism aside, the article suggests shoddy activism as well. The Human Rights Campaign website shows no public statements or pushes on DADT since Feb. 5, further contributing to a sense that our "inside the Beltway" gay groups are as out of the loop on the process for DADT repeal than they were on pressuring the president and Congress to raise the issue last month.
At issue at this point is not whether Don't Ask Don't Tell will be repealed, but when. Now is the time for HRC and the other D.C. gay groups to shine.
The entire argument in favor of having a well-resourced organization of inside lobbyists like HRC, and in particular well-paid leaders like Joe Solmonese and David Smith is that they know how to massage the process and leverage our efforts to win our equality sooner than we would otherwise.
Will they mobilize the gay community and our progressive allies to prevent the Pentagon review to delay the legislative process toward repeal? Will they, at a minimum, succeed in making a moratorium on DADT discharges -- all discharges, not just so-called "third party complaints" -- an amendment to the Defense Department budget bill?
Or what will it take for the millionaire activists of Gay Rights, Inc., to earn the salary or be replaced?
February 12, 2010
Posted by: Chris
THREE UPDATES: at the end of the post.
Nate Silver notes that opposition among Republicans to repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell has stiffened, even as overall public opinion remains strongly in favor of President Obama's pledge made in the State of the Union Address. His graph shows the percentage of Republicans only in favor of allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
Silver attributes most of the difference in the results to question wording and polling methodology, and certainly on those points we have to defer to his judgment.
But I also bet that at least some portion of the decrease in GOP support for repealing DADT springs from nothing other than President Obama's public pledge to do away with the policy. For way too many Republicans, backing by Obama is all they need to know to join his opposition.
UPDATE: A CBS News/New York Times survey confirms broad support for repealing DADT. The margin favoring allowing gays to serve in the military is 70% to 19%. Among that 70%, the percentage backing service by openly gay soldiers and sailors stands at 58% to 9%.
UPDATE: Politico's Ben Smith points out that even within the CBS News/New York Times, there is substantial disparity, based in large part on whether the DADT question was asked concerning "homosexuals" or "gay men and lesbians." Not surprisingly, "gay men and lesbians" polls better, adding to the total that "strongly favor" allowing gays to serve openly:
UPDATE: A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows even stronger support -- 75% of Americans -- for repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell. Not surprisingly, men, the elderly and conservatives are less supportive, as is knowing someone who is gay:
The percentage of Americans who say they support gays openly serving is … far above the 44 percent who said so in May 1993. In the new poll, majorities across party lines favor such a policy, with support among Democrats (82 percent) and independents (77 percent) higher than among Republicans (64 percent).
The poll also reveals several sharp demographic divides. Men (65 percent) and seniors (69 percent) are far less likely than are women (84 percent) and young adults (81 percent under age 30) to say that gays should be allowed to serve if they have disclosed their sexual orientation. Knowing a gay person makes a big difference: Among those who say they have a gay friend or family member, 81 percent support allowing gay people to serve openly, compared with 66 percent who say they do not know someone who is gay.
February 04, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Why is the issue of gay rights considered so divisive? I still remember four years ago how the prospect of a simple Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem accomplished what centuries of wars could not: unifying Jewish, Palestinian and even Christian leaders in Israel and the West Bank.
Now we're seeing a similar effect on weak-kneed members of Congress, who are predictably following up a year of delay on gay rights, by agreeing that an election year "in the midst of two wars" is not the time to debate the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell:
"I don't think it will be a campaign issue," House Republican Leader John Boehner told NBC. "In the middle of two wars, and in the middle of this giant security threat, why would we want to get into this debate?"
Meanwhile, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said nothing about the proposed policy change, which he personally opposes, despite having a perfect platform for doing so Wednesday. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen testified before Skelton's committee, and they received only a smattering of questions or comments from lawmakers about the topic that dominated their testimony before senators a day earlier.
It's certainly possible that the gays and military subject will arise in some congressional campaigns this year. House Democratic leaders said they will quietly sound out their more moderate and politically vulnerable members before deciding when to seek a vote to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
That final, highlighted sentence ought to result in phone lines burning up between the Human Rights Campaign and other supposed political insiders. The time is now, like never before, with every indication there will be fewer favorable votes on DADT and other gay rights issues after the November midtern election.
There may be districts where the issue cuts against moderate and conservative Dems, but look at the polling data:
Pew Research polls found that support for gays serving openly in the military rose from just over half of all Americans in 1994 to nearly 60 percent in 2005 and later years. Opposition dropped from 45 percent to 32 percent, and the proportion of people "strongly opposed" dropped by half, to 13 percent.
A USA Today/Gallup poll from mid-2009 showed even stronger support for letting gays serve openly in the military: 69 percent in favor, 26 opposed and 6 percent unsure. Among Republicans and conservatives, the rate of support was 58 percent. Support ran lowest in the South and among older Americans, but it still easily exceeded 50 percent among those groups.
With the scene set so favorably, it ought to be a no-brainer to get DADT repeal included in the Defense Department budget bill now under consideration in Congress. If not, then Capitol Hill is not the only place where heads need to roll.
Posted by: Chris
In a historic question-and-answer session with House Republicans last week, President Obama chided his audience for painting themselves into a political corner by so demonizing the change agenda of the White House and Democrats that they had no wiggle room to compromise on issues where the two parties share common ground.
You can already see that dynamic at work in the newly resurgent debate over Don't Ask Don't Tell. With all the cover being offered on the issue by a Defense secretary and Joint Chiefs chairman first appointed George W. Bush, you would think that at least some moderate Republicans would position themselves as open-minded on the issue.
But instead, we were treated to pathetic displays of fear-mongering by senators with Southern accents, principally Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Roger Wicker of MIssissippi and Jeff Sessions of Alabama. As someone who has lived in or near those three states for much of my life, let me tell you that their representatives in government ought to show greater self-restraint before once again staining their history by taking the wrong side on yet another civil rights battle.
They're not the only ones. Gay Republicans are trying to muster some excitement about open-minded members of their own party by pointing to Orrin Hatch, the venerable Mormon from Utah, who according to D.C. Big Pappa, a black gay Republican blogger (yes Virginia, there is a black gay Republican) said, "he’s open to repealing DADT, a key signal that the repeal might get true bipartisan support."
Except that it took less than one 24-hour-news-cycle for Hatch to walk back that open-mindendess, blasting "left-leaning media" for "misconstruing" his comments."I certainly do not support repealing this policy," Hatch said in a statementthat slammed "activists" for "misconstruing my position."
You can forgive "left-leaning" types like LaSalvia, and yes I'm being sarcastic, for their misconstruction. Here was the exchange between Mitchell and Hatch:
"I can put you down as being open to it?" Mitchell asked.
"I am," Hatch replied.
Should we now look forward to D.C. Big Pappa's next post, blasting left-leaning blogs and activists for misconstruing his first post for suggesting anything other than Hatch's principled opposition to repealing this important national security policy?
February 03, 2010
Posted by: Chris
MSNBC's Chris Matthews shows why "Hardball" is the best political show on cable. The debate over Don't Ask Don't Tell between Aubrey Davis of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Peter Sprigg of the antigay Family Research Council, is given enough time to go below the surface and Sprigg is given enough rope to hang himself.
To be sure, Matthews helps Sprigg along, and in the process shows that his opposition to open service by gays in the military is actually only the tip of the iceberg. The FRC and its conservative Republican allies would, if they had the power, ban gays entirely from serving and even jail sexually active gay people.
The only piece of the puzzle left unsaid it is that the same sodomy laws that Sprigg and his ilk favor would actually imprison the vast majority of heterosexuals as well, since studies show than more than 80 percent of straight people (in and out of the military) engage in oral and anal sodomy, which would also be criminalized.
(QuickTime video for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad users after the jump).
Posted by: Chris
That seems to be the Republican party line on Don't Ask Don't Tell, despite the discharge of some 13,500 service members, at a cost of millions in training and impaired military readiness, since the policy was adopted in 1993. Here is Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach reacting on last night's Rachel Maddow show to John McCain's cynical defense of Don't Ask Don't Tell:
We could not have better spokespeople on this issue, and you can add Dan Choi's passionate advocacy to the list. Also I strongly recommend a post over at Pam's House Blend by Justin Elzie, a "Marine of the Year" discharged in the early days of Don't Ask Don't Tell, who I had the honor to represent as a young lawyer at the D.C. firm of Covington & Burling.
Elzie reminds all of us that civil rights movements are really fought at the margins of change. The question isn't whether we will be allowed to serve openly in the military and marry legally. The question is when:
Right now there are some that are willing to stay with the status quo of gradualism and compromise. For instance, in our own community this week one person said on CNN that an option worth exploring would be allowing the Department of Defense to retain the flexibility to implement repeal along a moderate timeline of months.
The truth is that if DADT was lifted tomorrow, we would wake up the next day and the military would still go on with no detriment to morale. For someone in our community to suggest and support a delay and sensitivity to the military leadership's privacy concerns only helps validate this erroneous argument that gays would be detrimental to the military in closed quarters. The naked truth of a delayed implementation plan is that it is an accommodation for the straight male's uncomfortability with gays in the military. It doesn't make sense to have a ramp up or a go-slow approach implementation plan when thousands of LGBT personnel are already there. If we waited until every person in the military was comfortable with gays, repeal of DADT wouldn't happen. Gradualism emboldens our opponents.
Gradualism for accommodation is a problem in that there will always be an excuse. In 1993, a compromise was hatched and gave us DADT and it has reigned for 17 years now. We have waited too long and it is time for it to be over.
Posted by: Chris
Forgive me if I don't get too excited that Colin Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs who pressured President Clinton into signing Don't Ask Don't Tell into law, has now come around on the issue. Don't get me wrong, it's always welcome when those who oppose our basic equality reverse their positions, regardless of how many earlier opportunities they squandered.
That's especially true in the case of Powell, who as the military's top uniformed officer acted in insubordinate fashion toward his new commander in chief back in 1993, calling Clinton out for acting to fulfill his public campaign promise to end the ban on gays in the military. Still immensely popular even among Republicans after a disastrous turn as secretary of state in the administration of George W. Bush, Powell spoke out against DADT one day after his Joint Chiefs successor Adm. Mike Mullen and Sec Def Robert Gates backed Obama on repealing Powell's policy:
“In the almost 17 years since the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed,” General Powell said in a statement issued by his office. He added: “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.”
In his statement on Wednesday, General Powell said “the principal issue has always been the effectiveness of the Armed Forces and order and discipline in the ranks.”
Powell's backing will be enormously helpful politically for Obama, Mullen and Gates, who unlike Powell showed true leadership on the issue. For years, DADT defenders found cover in Powell's position, since the first-ever African American to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs seemed so unimpeachable on issues of equality and discrimination.
In fact, gays in the military represented a real blind spot for Powell, whose historic career will always be tainted by his unwillingness to stand up to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney on Iraq, and his unwillingness to stand up to bigots in the military on service by gay soldiers and sailors.
Even today, Powell's reversal came with a caveat. The only reason he favors repeal is that "attitudes and circumstances have changed," meaning that gays are far more accepted in U.S. society, especially among the young people who provide that elusive "unit cohesion" we hear so often about when this issue is debated.
That means Powell's position is actually unchanged: The government can and should discriminate when bigotry among the ranks may result in some disruption if a minority group is integrated into the armed forces.
It is a truly remarkable and hypocritical view from a man who benefited so obviously from the courageous willingness of President Harry Truman and the top military brass of his day who implemented the executive order integrating blacks into the U.S. military. According to Powell's logic, Truman and his generals recklessly risked unit cohesion and military readiness with their social experimentation.
Taken to its logical conclusion, Powell's caveat argues against all sorts of laws against discrimination in the public and private sector, since these laws are needed the very most when prejudice is most widespread, meaning disruption in the workplace by mandated equality will be most significant.
The Powell principle of nondiscrimination is that equality is an admirable goal that justifies government intervention only when society has progressed far enough that the bigots are already outnumbered and the new rules come at little cost in terms of inefficiencies and unrest. Until that happy day, it is not just acceptable but laudable for government to cater and even give legal effect to privately held bigotry.
Posted by: Kevin
And it was when everyone's cards were put on the table. What we saw in each player's hand was perhaps the most dramatic political moment for us since the Democrats returned to power in Congress in 2006, and added the White House to their column in 2008.
First off, the unassailable position of Admiral Mullen, and his obvious lack of discomfort or reluctance to speak in favor of lifting the ban, is a testament to the long, intense, patient and capable work of Professor Aaron Belkin of the Palm Center, a think-tank at the University of California at Santa Barbara which had put out reams and reams of peer-reviewed research for the better part of a decade dismantling every aspect of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy's effectiveness, and maneuvering among the military scholar community and the highly influential constituencies of current and retired generals and officers. This transformational moment (even more neat in how it was captured on Admiral Mullen's Twitter account, to drive the point of modernization even further home) would not have happened without Belkin and the Palm Center. (Full disclosure: I had the Palm Center as a consulting client from 2002 to 2006, serving as their Washington representative. But Belkin and his band of brilliant scholars, like Dr. Nathaniel Frank, author of "Unfriendly Fire", the definitive book on the policy, were the ones who did all the real work.) I'm not saying that Belkin was directly responsible for Mullen's position, but the work that he did all these years had a great deal to do with the atmosphere among military leaders that resulted in Mullen's position before the Senate.
It also showed the very strong hand of President Obama himself. I have raised a great deal of criticism of this president, from the moment he was elected, and I know that before this week happened I was not alone among many, many gay Americans of every political persuasion. I was simply demanding results from the promises we got. Well, in that moment in the Senate, we got results. This would not be happening were it not for the determination and the seriousness of President Obama and his White House to deliver on this promise, even though he cannot deliver on it alone. He deserves credit and praise for that, and our support in moving it forward.
It also gave retired General Colin Powell the chance to lay his cards on the table. He was quick to join in supporting Mullen, Gates and President Obama in this effort. "[A]ttitudes and circumstances have changed," Powell said in a statement. “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.” This from the man who was Joint Chiefs chairman when the policy was enacted. Yet another score in our favor, perhaps later than it should have been, but Powell also deserves praise for speaking out after years of silence when all private reports in GOP circles was that he has felt this way for a long time.
Finally, another set of cards were laid on the table, and they were infuriating and heart-breaking. Senator John McCain, who told me to my face and to a group of other Log Cabin leaders in his office in 1999, that "the day Colin Powell comes up here and says it's time to change the policy, that's the day we should change the policy" basically showed himself to be a liar. Instead of absorbing the reality of Gates' and Mullen's testimony, and what it represents in terms of active military brass and their desire to move forward, he chided them about usurping Congress' role in the matter. WTF? That's something you'd expect from a haughty, disrespectful cow like Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), not from a war veteran and a man I have always seen as highly honorable. It was a surreal moment for many of us who'd backed and loved John McCain over the years, and it was perhaps the most discouraging and sickening moments I've ever experienced in politics.
However, this was just the first serious round of poker in this effort. A lot of other hands must now be forced, almost entirely within the Democratic ranks of the House and Senate -- the people who will decide whether this policy stays or goes before they lose their majorities (whenever that happens). And that is where all the scholarly work, all the patience of convincing military leaders, where all the lobbying of the White House must take a back seat to the pure, activist politics of holding the feet of Congress to the fire. That means Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It means the senior Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee: Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri, John Spratt of South Carolina, Solomon Ortiz of Texas and Gene Taylor of Mississippi (all of whom have been in the basement of the Human Rights Campaign's ratings system for a long time). It also means Carl Levin, who has been a friend before, but also former Klansman Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who has not been one. That's the next gang of characters that must be frontally engaged with every bit of leverage, persuasion, pressure, carrots and sticks alike, by the so-called gay and lesbian leaders at HRC and other elements of the gay Democratic establishment who have been promising and promising and promising and promising in fundraising letter after fundraising letter after fundraising letter for decades now that THEY will be the smartest, the strongest, the "most muscular" lobby imaginable to deliver when the time comes.
Indeed. We'll see.
Posted by: Chris
UPDATE: At the end of the post.
That the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is on Twitter? Or that this was his tweet for today?:
Stand by what I said: Allowing homosexuals to serve openly is the right thing to do. Comes down to integrity.
Is it just me, or is 2010 kickin' some 2009 ass, at least so far…
UPDATE: In addition to tweeting, Mullen posted his argument against Don't Ask Don't Tell on his blog. (Yes, he has a blog. There's even video of his historic testimony yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.)
February 02, 2010
Posted by: Chris
I wrote my first column about gay rights back in 1996 -- now buried somewhere in the archives of Southern Voice newspaper -- about the glaring contraditions in the life and accomplishments of Colin Powell. It seemed irreconciable to me that someone who had benefited so much from President Truman's courageous order to integrate the U.S. armed forces along racial lines, Gen. Powell nonetheless stood in the proverbial schoolhouse door as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and blocked President Clinton in 1993 from ending the ban on gays in the military.
The occasion then was Powell's 1996 autobiography, "An American Journey," and even then the first African American to serve in the nation's top uniformed military post hinted he knew that he would ultimately wind up on the wrong side of history on this issue. It didn't take that long for history to prove him correct.
Today in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Mike Mullen, the current Joint Chiefs chairman, threw his full support behind President Obama's pledge to repeal the infamous Don't Ask Don't Tell compromise and allow gays to serve openly in the military:
“No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said it was his personal belief that “allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do.”
This wasn't just a military man and his civilian boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, following marching orders from the president. Their testimony would have looked very different, focusing entirely on the logistics of removing the ban on servive by openly gay soldiers and sailors.
Instead, conservatives in Congress who slammed Clinton for not listening to the Pentagon on this issue were forced like John McCain today to switch sides themselves and whine about how the military brass was acting like it knew better than the politicians.
“I’m deeply disappointed with your statement, Secretary Gates,” McCain said. … “Your statement obviously is one that is clearly biased without the view of Congress being taken into consideration. … I’m happy to say that we still have a Congress of the United States to repeal 'don’t ask don’t tell,' despite your efforts to repeal it in many respects by fiat.”
This was the same John McCain, just four years ago, promising to defer to the military brass:
[T]he day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, Senator, we ought to change the policy, then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.
If congressional Democrats can summon a minimum of backbone, still something of an open question, than McCain and his ilk will be consigned to the same dustbin of bigotry as those who opposed racial integration of the military.
(Does anyone in politics today more personify the angry old man grousing at anyone and everyone, already on the wrong side of history even within their own lifetime? If the current leadership of Log Cabin wishes to maintain even a modicum of self-respect among the rest of us, they need to redeem their endorsement of McCain for president by bringing a full court press against Susan Collins and other moderate Republicans to overcome the inevitable GOP filibuster.)
You don't have to be a bigot to back Don't Ask Don't Tell, certainly, but you do have to cater to the bigotry of those who would only serve alongside a gay service member if they don't know their sexual orientation.
"Unit cohesion" has always been the dressed up name for such cowardly conduct, which Admiral Mullen confirmed again today is unbecoming of our military.
(Photo of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen via Washington Post)
January 30, 2010
Posted by: Chris
The Pentagon had been expected to announce its "plan" to implement repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell early next week, but now it appears that the plan is the announcement itself (I've highlighted the most depressing bits):
The Defense Department starts the clock next week on what is expected to be a several-year process in lifting its ban on gays from serving openly in the military.
A special investigation into how the ban can be repealed without hurting the morale or readiness of the troops was expected to be announced Tuesday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
While the review is likely to take the better part of this year to complete, and even more time to implement, its initiation will advance President Barack Obama's goal of repealing the ban and bring a divisive issue for the military back to the fore.
At the White House, officials continued reviewing options to repeal the Clinton-era policy that the president vowed to repeal. The administration still believes that any repeal should start in Congress and have the backing of top military leaders.
To that end, Obama and Gates planned a meeting next week to discuss, among other topics, ending "don't ask, don't tell" policies. The president was also likely to speak with Mullen, who has signaled he would carry out a repeal if ordered by Obama and Congress.
So a full year after Washington welcomed a president and two houses of Congress in the hands of the "gay-friendly" Democrats committed to repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, itself signed into law by a Democratic president, we learn that nothing -- absolutely nothing -- has been done to the lay the groundwork for its repeal.
The "big announcement" next week is the formation of a "special investigation" that will take more than a year to complete. So what is there to specially investigate?
Can a soldier be forced to room with someone who is openly gay if they are the same sex? Would the military recognize civil unions and how much would it cost to extend benefits to a service member's partner? Would quotas be imposed to ensure openly gay service members aren't passed over for promotions?
These are the difficult questions? The second and third questions aren't even real issues. The federal government does not recognize gay relationships for any purposes right now, and no one -- no one -- is seriously suggesting that the mliitary has to take the lead in that regard at the same time they allow gays to begin serving openly. Quotas on out gay promotions? Really? This is a far-right, fear-mongering talking point that, again, no one -- no one -- is seriously suggesting.
The first question does raise privacy issues that are worthy of being thought through, but it is flatly ridiculous to suggest that doing so would take weeks, much less months, to sort through.
Keep in mind, for those worried about privacy for hetero soldiers and sailors, that Don't Ask Don't Tell is far more invasive of their privacy. Why? Right now, gays are guaranteed the right to serve and straight service members are prevented by law from knowing which of their comrades is homo. So if there's peeking going on in bunkers and barracks, they're far easier when no one knows who's gay.
Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, "Democrats in Congress are unlikely to press the issue until after this fall's midterm elections." Of course they aren't, and why should they when no one is really holding their feet to the fire. The bottom-down, buttoned-down management of Gay Rights, Inc., almost all of whom are disgruntled Hillary-backers, have blamed the president for everything and let congressional Democrats almost untouched.
No Excuses? More like No Excuses Necessary.
(Top photo: Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Adm. Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, prior to last week's State of the Union address. Photo via Washington Post; No Excuses tee shirt via Human Rights Campaign)
January 28, 2010
Posted by: ChrisUPDATE: At the end of this post.
You knew Barack Obama's townhall meeting today in Tampa might not go well when he started off by giving a shoutout to that "model individual" Tony Dungy, the former Indianapolis Colts coach who made headlines in 2007 when he inserted himself into whether Indiana should pass a state constitutional amendment banning gays from marriage, even accepting an award from an anti-gay group for his efforts.
It went a bit downhill from there, when the president pretty thoroughly sidestepped a question for a college student about how he plans to follow through on his pledge in last night's State of the Union address:
As someone who has repeatedly defended the president against criticism that he, rather than Congress, is to blame for the lack of progress on DADT repeal and other gay rights advances, I thought the question was completely fair and Obama should have given more than a general answer that pretty much avoided the question entirely.
What is the plan, Mr. President? Do you support including Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal in the Defense Department appropriations bill, just as DADT was when President Clinton signed it into law in 1993? If not, what is the strategy for bypassing intransigent opposition by House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and getting this thing done?
UPDATE: Some good news, albeit vague, reported by the AP:
The Pentagon said Thursday it will work to carry out the president’s wishes [concerning the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell]. Top military leaders are working on a plan for how repeal of the law would be implemented in the Defense Department, said Navy Capt. John Kirby, spokesman for Adm. Mike Mullen. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The chairman and the (service) chiefs understand perfectly the president’s intent, and they look forward to being able to provide their best military advice about the implementation of repeal,” Kirby said of Obama’s statement.
Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were expected to address the topic in congressional budget hearings next week.
Posted by: Chris
As some gay progressives and longtime Clinton allies take potshots at President Obama for not having repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell, the real culprits escape scot-free. Consider Ike Skelton, the leading House Democrat on setting military policy:
Seventeen years ago, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) played a major role in crafting the controversial law known as "Don't Ask Don't Tell." When President Bill Clinton wanted to lift the ban preventing gay people from joining the military, Skelton opposed the move. The end result was a compromise under which gay service members would conceal their sexual orientation.
Now, after President Barack Obama pledged during his campaign and first year in office to repeal the law, Skelton finds himself on the opposite side once again.
"I am personally not for changing the law," he said during a C-SPAN "Newsmakers" interview that will air Sunday. … He said the full House Armed Services Committee won't hold a hearing on the repeal of the law. Rather, the Personnel subcommittee will hold the hearing at some point this year.
It's unclear we have the votes to get DADT through Skelton's committee and to the House floor for a vote, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) doesn't appear spoiling for a fight on this (or any other gay rights) issue.
As a result, the best chance of actually repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell and allowing gays to serve openly in the military is to include it in the Defense Department budget appropriation, as Skelton and Congress did way back in 1993 when they adopted DADT in the first place. There's where we need to apply our pressure, not on nitpicking President Obama's very public commitment in last night's State of the Union address.
Posted by: Chris
At the same time that craven and immoral statement by Log Cabin Republicans slammed President Obama for the mortal sin of committing in his State of the Union address to the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell this year, we still await remarks by the gay GOP group in response to the very public pronouncements in favor of the policy by the man they endorsed for president in 2008:
“In his State of the Union address, President Obama asked Congress to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy. I am immensely proud of, and thankful for, every American who wears the uniform of our country, especially at a time of war, and I believe it would be a mistake to repeal the policy.
“This successful policy has been in effect for over fifteen years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels. We have the best trained, best equipped, and most professional force in the history of our country, and the men and women in uniform are performing heroically in two wars. At a time when our Armed Forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy.”
If, as Log Cabin ludicrously suggests, President Obama favors the rights of foreign terrorists over hard-working, life-sacrificing gay Americans, then by that measure John McCain must himself be a member of Al Qaeda, targetting flag-waving queers for all sort of murder and mayhem.
Yes, that analogy is completely over the top, offensive, and ridiculous, but no more so than Log Cabin's shameful attack on the president.
P.S. It goes without saying that McCain is flat wrong in his assertion that Don't Ask Don't Tell, which requires gay soldiers and sailors to lie to their comrades, their superiors and their families and friends about who they are, is "predominantly supported by our military at all levels."
A December 2006 Zogby poll of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan found that 73 percent of soldiers reported being “comfortable … in the presence of gays,” and only 37 percent opposed repealing DADT. In July 2008, a Washington Post/ABC poll found that even 50 percent of veterans supported open service by lesbians and gays.
Posted by: Kevin
And he finally -- FINALLY -- made a concrete promise to the gay and lesbian community that really matters. He promised "to work with Congress and the military" in 2010 to end the outrageous "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving in the military. For me, this was a great moment and a long-overdue correction of a nearly 20-year old policy that must be overturned.
As a very skeptical viewer, I have to say that the rhetoric was too gentle and not inspiring in the least. The speech was so long and so full of items that I imagine the average angry voter out there was not satiated if he sat through the whole thing. He was too gentle with his fellow Democrats. They've done more than just "head for the hills" - they've abandoned all principle and sense of decency largely because they don't believe in anything but re-election. All this aside, though, Obama's political bullet points on balance were encouraging, even if many of his policy statements were, to me and other center-right-inclined folks, wrong-headed.
This is where I part company with many of my compatriots on the right, including many gay conservatives. I don't agree with Obama on most of his policy positions in general. I don't trust the Democratic Party one bit, and think of its Congressional caucus as a pack of lying slimebags who care only about themselves (with a few notable exceptions too few to influence anything). I vote accordingly, and as readers of this blog know, I pontificate accordingly. But I do not want President Obama to fail in delivering on his promises to the gay and lesbian community, nor do I want his presidency to collapse, as it would mean the country will fall deeper into chaos and dissension.
I want the policies I disagree with to fail, yes. I don't want the massive government-run health care hurricane massing off shore to become law and plow over the already hopelessly indebted Treasury. I don't want populism to overwhelm an already tottering financial system, which would not only affect Main Street, U.S.A., but most of the developing world as well. I think a spending freeze that doesn't include entitlements is a waste of time and will make some very important programs suffer while upper middle class, golf-playing retirees collect Social Security checks that they don't need. We can win those fights honestly, and frontally, with the power of better ideas and with courage. (Too bad the Republicans in Congress seem to possess neither.)
But I don't want a President of the United States to fail entirely. I think it reeks of selfish provincialism and borders on a lack of patriotism to cheer rapturously as a President of the United States sinks into political oblivion in his first year in office. The institution of the presidency isn't a football team. It has an importance far beyond the person in that chair, and it affects nearly everything in the global economic and political fabric. If he has committed some sort of crime and must be removed, like Richard Nixon, then fine -- we must carry forward with his nominal defeat if he refuses to go. But weakening the institution (from without or within) for minor playing field gains in the political realm is the stuff of moth-eaten banana republics like Argentina, Ecuador or Bolivia. Not the United States of America.
So, I applaud his promise to "work with Congress and the military" in 2010 to overturn one of the most vicious anti-gay policies ever adopted in American history. It has sapped our nation's security, ruined tens of thousands of lives, fomented a level of hate and anxiety in one of the proudest and most able institutions of our Republic, and worst of all, it never worked as it was intended to. It is a giant moral stain on our country.
The real challenge now, as with nearly every other issue Obama outlined last night, will be the Democratic Congress. And on that, we must be absolutely relentless from this day forward.
If the gay community, starting with the Human Rights Campaign and the rest of the national political groups, does not mobilize with an intensity not seen in more than a decade, and use every single tool of pressure on the Democrats in Congress to follow through on this promise in 2010, I assure you it will fail. And its failure will be a political catastrophe, bigger than Proposition 8. There will be no room left for political courage on gay issues in national government, and we will be cast aside like a piece of trash for another decade.
If we don't use threats, if we don't hold campaign money over their heads, if we don't get written, signed pledges and public statements, and set deadlines and hold rallies against the waverers -- if we don't send legions of constituents into district and Capitol Hill offices -- if we don't get the national media to report almost a decade of unrivaled peer-reviewed research from the Palm Center that proves how bad the policy is from almost every possible angle -- then even with effort from the White House, the Democratic Congress will not follow through.
Yes, we must also pressure the Republicans. Those who have promised to be with us in the past cannot be allowed to change their position, and should face our united wrath if they do. Those who hurl tired, anti-gay rhetoric and try to whip up hatred within the military ranks should be condemned loudly, and they, too, must be made to suffer whatever consequence we can affect. But let's also be honest -- we can do a hell of a lot more damage to a Democrat in almost any district or state in the country than we can do to a Republican senator from Oklahoma or Alabama. The real firefight has to be with the cowards and the waverers, because they will decide our fate.
I want to thank President Obama for getting up off the mat last night, albeit too gently. Let's hope from now on we'll see some fierce activism from him, as well as from our own ranks.
Posted by: Chris
The initial reaction from Gay Rights Inc. are in to the president calling on Congress to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell in the State of the Union address. Not surprisingly, most groups (including the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, Lambda Legal and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) give Congress a complete pass, acting as if Obama alone can repeal DADT. The Human Rights Campaign mentions Congress but only in passing.
And then there's this despicable statement from Log Cabin Republicans, a group I have defended for years but don't even recognize anymore:
“President Obama is more concerned about protecting the rights of terrorists than he is about the rights of gay and lesbian Americans who are putting their lives on the line every day fighting to preserve peace and democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and operate small businesses that are the backbone of the American economy.” — Charles Moran, a spokesperson for Log Cabin Republicans
Never in more than a decade of covering the gay rights movement have I seen a public pronouncement by a gay political group that is more offensive, more over the top and more worthy of universal condemnation.
Put aside, for the moment, the conflating of gays in the military with the completely unrelated decision by Attorney General Eric Holder (independent of President Obama) to try some Guantanamo prisoners in Article III courts (as the Bush administration did) rather than in front of military commissions. Put aside even, the gay Republican group's indefensible silence in response to condemnation of the president's promise by leading Republicans, especially sore loser John McCain.
This president favors the entire range of gay rights legislation put forward by our movement, up to and including civil unions if not marriage in terms of relationship recognition. He is more supportive by far than any previous president and is a complete and total foil for both McCain and the last Republican president, who favored federal or state constitutional amendments making those same gay Americans second-class citizens.
I don't know who is running Log Cabin these days, and why they are even trying to outflank the GOP apologists over at the oxymornic GOProud, but outrageous and offensive statements like this one convince no one of the rightness of our cause, including the anti-gay Republican leadership, which Log Cabin so cravenly seeks to ingratiate.
Posted by: Chris
Richard Socarides, who was apologist-in-chief for the disastrous two terms of Bill Clinton for gay civil rights, attempts to rewrite that history even as he takes a swipe at the current Democrat in the White House:
"In 1999, Bill Clinton became the first president ever to talk about gay rights in a State of the Union address. Eleven years later, not much has changed. [Talking again about ending the policy] without a moratorium on the witch hunts and expulsions and without even a plan for future action, just won't cut it. Look, we are not second-class citizens and our rights are not second-term problems."
Not much has changed? Let's see. Bill Clinton abandoned his gays in the military pledge like a hot potato in the first months of his first year of his first term, and by 1995 had signed both Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act into law.
If Socarides really wants to talk about empty rhetoric, let's look at Bill Clinton's coded support for gay rights in his 1999 SOTU address:
Discrimination or violence because of race or religion, ancestry or gender, disability or sexual orientation is wrong and it ought to be illegal. Therefore, I ask Congress to make the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act the law of the land.
No mention of the dreaded "G word" and a tepid request of Congress to back two inoccuous pieces of legislation that -- nudge nudge, wink wink -- only the gays knew were for our benefit. Clinton's throwaway reference contained no time commitment and one of those two bills still languishes in Congress, despite a supermajority in both chambers.
I'm all for keeping the Democrats feet to the fire on gay issues, but rather than whine about a president who actually did something meaningful, let's hear from Socarides and other FOB/H's about the MIA congressional leadership.
(Pictured with then-President Bill Clinton: "awkward old maid" Janet Reno (far left) and gay liaison Richard Socarides (holding red notebook)).
January 27, 2010
Posted by: Chris
As expected, President Obama recounted passage of the hate crimes (without mentioning Matthew Shepard) and committed himself to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell this year:
This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It's the right thing to do.
You don't get higher profile than the State of the Union and it took political courage to take his on in an election year where Democrats look in trouble. This was not a throwaway gay mention in a run of the mill speech. It was a public commitment complete with a deadline in the speech where Obama set his highest priorities for what will be a difficult election year. That is not nothing.
Some no doubt expect more from President Obama on this issue, including an executive order staying prosecutions under the policy. That expects too much, and would set a dangerous precedent if he even attempted it. Only Congress can repeal DADT; an executive order attempting a de facto repeal would be patently illegal. We had more than enough of this sort of abuse of presidential power in the last administration.
Even if he could halt DADT by executive fiat, I do not think he should. That wasn't his campaign promise, and it would set off an entire side debate on executive authority and interference with the military, not to mention separation of powers. We don't need to risk moderate and independent support this way, especially with clear and historic Democratic majorities in both houses.
It's way too easy to focus all our impatience on the president. The fact remains that it's up to Congress to pass DADT repeal, and it's up to groups like the Human Rights Campaign and Stonewall Democrats to hold their feet to the fire until they do. And it's long past time for Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud to bring more public pressure to bear on the minority party not to block this and other gay rights bills by use of the anti-democratic filibuster in the Senate.
Enough talk, it's time for action. Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal is only one item on a list of promises candidate Obama made in 2008 and the Democratic Party has made for years. Success on that single issue doesn't even correct the reversals in gay civil rights from the last time Democrats controlled Washington -- that would require repealing the Defense of Marriage Act as well.
Now it's time for Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to step up and act.
Posted by: Chris
5. Even in the throes of a grave economic crisis, Democrats in Congress could not resist converting the stimulus into an orgy of pork barrel spending that targeted neither job growth nor speedy infusion into the economy. How can you make the case for the capability of government to solve intractable problems when your own leaders are incapable of any fiscal self-restraint?
4. President Obama and the Democrats run so scared of GOP charges of being "weak on defense" that they double down on nation-building in Afghanistan masquerading as war, even though neither project ranks high enough in our national interest to justify the additional lives to be lost, much less the outrageous sums to be spent.
3. Conservative Democrats in the U.S. Senate (and a Connecticut independent bought and paid for by the insurance industry) may well have killed historic health care reform by their willingness to join with Republicans in the rank abuse of the filibuster so as to grease their own parochial pockets.
2. The party's congressional leadership appears prepared to throw universal health coverage under the bus to satisfy labor unions and abortion rights absolutists.
1. Despite controlling the White House and commanding supermajorities in the House and Senate, Democrats have almost completely failed to deliver tangible progress toward basic equality for gay and lesbian Americans. This government, firmly in control of the gay-friendly party, still refuses even to correct the horrors of the last Democratic high tide -- "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act.
January 26, 2010
Posted by: Chris
Word is that President Obama will specifically address repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gays in the military in his State of the Union speech tomorrow night:
The Obama administration has asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to delay hearings on the fate of the military’s controversial “con’t ask, don’t tell” policy, because the president expects to discuss it in Wednesday’s address to Congress, the committee chairman said today.
Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat and chairman of the committee, told reporters that senior Pentagon officials asked him to postpone the hearings, because they do not want to be put in the position of discussing or defending a policy that the White House might abandon.
While there are way too many qualifiers packed into those two short paragraphs, if true this could mean (another qualifier) that the president is finally read to stake some political capital on gay civil rights, something so many of us expected long before now.
Let's be clear about a few things, however, the DNC and gay groups pressed for pink money waaay back in 2006 on the premise that a Democratic-controlled Congress would move on hate crimes, employment non-discrimination and repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. So passage (not hearings, not votes in one house but not the other, but passage) of the remaining two of three of these low-hanging fruit is the absolute minimum we should expect from Obama and a Congress controlled by a super-majority of Dems.
There's something painfully ironic about the administration telling Congress to go-slow on DADT repeal, even if only for a day or two, considering that our "allies" on the Hill has moved in microscopic ministeps toward any meaningful form of gay rights legislation. (No, I don't count the almost entirely symbolic hate crime bill.)
We await our president to reawaken our faith that our trust in him (in the primaries and general election) was not misplaced.
January 20, 2010
Posted by: Kevin
The Democratic Party promise since the 1990s: Give us all your money, all your votes, and we'll "fight 'til hell freezes over, then we'll fight on the ice" to deliver for the gay and lesbian community at the national level.
Well, that was a lie. Pure and simple. They had the power, and they didn't use it.
And as the much vaunted Democratic supermajority comes to a bitter and self-destructive end, it's become fairly obvious to everyone now what a lie it was. (I won't say I told you so.)
Tens of millions of dollars in wasted donations and almost two decades of furiously slavish political loyalty to the national Democratic establishment yielded passage of a mostly symbolic hate crimes law that had gone moldy on the dais for more than a decade, and nothing else. Indeed, we got more admonitions than action on all fronts, being told to wait even longer and not 'endanger' the prospects for totally unrelated legislation that ended up bombing anyway. I mean - what are they going to tell us next, that they need 75 seats and a 100-seat majority in the House to pass ENDA? Don't even think about repealing the military ban or the Defense of Marriage Act. (Oh, and send a check, please. 'Your life depends on it,' etc. and so forth....)
Indeed, allowing the Democratic leadership to shove aside reforms that go to the heart of being gay in America today, in favor of their disastrous legislative fiascos of the past three years, didn't get us anywhere. Their bumbling cost them the Senate supermajority that our community invested so much in building as part of this deal they offered us almost a generation ago. And now we get nothing. Again.
And even the way they lost the supermajority is like an anvil to the head. It was Ted Kennedy's seat. It was in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage. And it was at the hands of a Republican so conservative, so 'out-of-step' on paper with that state, that even I can't believe he won, or better, that the Dems lost. Could this be any more violent a wake-up call for all for all of us, finally yielding to a shift in gay national strategy? Will it be the moment we finally decide to end our toxic dependency on partisanship? Or is this just going to be like Lindsay Lohan crashing her car and saying it was an innocent mistake and not the pound of cocaine up her nose?
First, we need gay leaders with balls once and for all. Or just gay leaders, period. Joe Solomonese is chief among the fulsome, useless enablers of this failed bargain we've made, and frankly you should stop giving the Human Rights Campaign money until he resigns. What in hell has he accomplished in Washington worthy of the salary he receives? Getting Lady Gaga? How can you even bear to look at his insipid email missives now after all this? I certainly can't.
And while I agree that activism and commitment at the local and state level is probably more important, we cannot completely ignore the national imperatives. Don't just turn your head in disgust at what a joke HRC has become, or what a disaster the Democrats have been as a governing party. Do something about it. Register your opinion with them. Stop giving money to gay groups that fail to lead, and to party organizations that fail to deliver. Remove yourself from HRC's useless email lists (do you get anything other than requests for more money anymore?) Demand new leadership. Post comments on blogs, on Facebook, and in the few remaining gay newspapers around the country. Talk to like-minded gay and lesbian friends (especially longtime donors). Share ideas with each other and make a plan - any plan. But for God's sake, don't just turn your heads. Don't just sit there.
Wake up, people. The period between now and the 2010 elections will be the greatest test of whether we get action, or we wait another decade or two for a bus that is not going to stop here again. If we don't get anything back after all that we've invested, and all this community has done to deliver for them, explain to me why the Democratic Party should ever feel obliged to deliver for us in the future. We'll have proven ourselves the cheapest date in the history of party politics.
We are spinning our wheels until we push out the old and demand something new. Something real. Something courageous and honest at the front of this movement, who will live and die on results in the next 10 months.
It's time for someone to start fighting on the quickly hardening ice, and it had better be you.
July 31, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
We are 7 months into the Obama administration and DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) is still on the books. I believe anything the president does to initiate the repeal will cause a firestorm that is much, much greater than any of us activists anticipate and could significantly wound Obama politically. This is in spite of the fact that 75% of the public thinks gays should be able to serve openly in the military. Even though they are a significant minority, right wing reactionaries are waiting to ambush the president the minute he moves to repeal DADT.
So how should we repeal DADT with a minimum of damage? If I were speaking to the president, this is what I would advise him.
Wait until October when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen's two year term ends. In choosing a new Chief, make sure the general or admiral has impeccable military credentials and is firmly in favor of repealing DADT. Make sure he understands this is a top priority and it is his mission to accomplish this in the first few months of his term. Also instruct the future Chairman that he is to be open and honest about his opinion and plans for DADT during the Senate confirmation hearings.
During the Senate hearings make sure the nominee is asked several DADT questions and that he publicly states that he believes DADT is a bad policy and needs to be repealed. With the Democrats in control he should be confirmed. The hearings will put him on record about his intentions for the future of DADT. By confirming him, Congress has now approved the concept. The public is on notice and Congress is on notice that things are going to change. No one should be surprised when it happens.
Then a month or two later, the Chairman appears before Congress with numerous studies showing how DADT decreases national security, how we are losing talented men and women we cannot afford to lose during war time, and that the unit cohesion argument is a myth. He formally requests that Congress repeal DADT for the good of the armed forces. The repeal of DADT is initiated by the military.
The request was not initiated by a president who has no military service (a major Achilles heal for many). With the military requesting the change, it would give Congress the cover it needs to repeal DADT. It would also fly better with the American people. And if the military requests the change in the law, it would be much more difficult for the right wing to condemn it.
Had Obama directly requested Congress to do this, I am confident we would have a repeat of the political warfare that happened in 1993 when Clinton tried. Even with 75% of the country with us on this, the crazy right wingers can make a lot of noise, wound the president, and distract from other important issues such as health care reform, banking reform, and comprehensive immigration reform. This is not cowardice, it is smart politics.
I don't know if the White House is thinking along these lines, but I got the idea after reading "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Lincoln used this technique a lot. Whenever Lincoln ventured into military matters he found that he often got burned by the then third rail of politics - the military. The military was very political back then. Lincoln discovered that when it came to military matters -- it was often best if the order, suggestion or decision seemed to come from the military. Lincoln would make the decision, but then ask a general to announce it as though it were the general's. Lincoln learned that a controversial order or decision about the military was much better accepted if it came from the military.
I hope Obama has learned this from Lincoln.
July 23, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
UPDATE 2: Andrew Sullivan, back from his sabbatical, doesn't believe that the Dems are serious about repealing DADT.
UPDATE: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced this morning that the United States Senate would hold its first ever hearings on the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy this fall.
Perhaps many on you have read in today's Washington Blade that Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) has dropped her idea of attaching an amendment to the defense appropriations bill temporarily suspending the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law (DADT) for 18 months while the military determines whether a full repeal should be done. She couldn't get the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster by those who still support DADT.
This is very discouraging. The military needs more people, qualified people. Just yesterday Secretary Gates announced plans to increase the army by 22,000 servicemembers because we don't have enough with two ongoing wars. Yet since the inception of DADT the military has discharged about 13,000 trained and able soldiers because of the policy.
The saddest part of all this is that polls have repeatly shown that 75% or more of the public favors allowing gays to serve openly in the military. So why can't we repeal DADT? The problem is the US Constitution and the Senate rules. In the Senate you need 60 (out of 100) votes to pass anything. And each state gets two senators, no matter how few people they represent. So all those big (and conservative) states with not too many people in the mid-west get two votes.
Our government is set up to effectively allow 25 to 30% of the population to block the will of the other 70 to 75%. It's very, very hard to change things in this country. I guess that's good if you are trying to prevent a revolution from within, but not so good if you are talking about protecting the rights of a minority, especially when the courts are so reluctant to do so.
The only silver lining in all this is that when the people who hate us were in power, we could block a lot of their agressive anti-gay legislation, although not enough of it, because in the hysteria of the era, the Democrats did not block DADT or DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act).
So given this history, I think I would rather have had a parliamentary system. They still would have passed DOMA and DADT, but at least we might have been able to reverse those by now with simple majorities.
July 10, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
Congressman Patrick Murphy, a straight Congressman from PA, is taking the lead on repealing DADT. The above clip from the Rachel Maddow Show clearly demonstrates Murphy's passion and determination to get this done. The other clip at the end shows Murphy burying a right wing defender of DADT during Congressional hearings and is definitely worth watching. It demonstrates Murphy's ability to handle himself while under fire from the right wing. All the attributes of a good soldier are evident in the second clip. He both served and taught in the military and knows the culture and the rules inside out.
It's my opinion that we need more straight politicians leading on gay issues. It's fine that we have Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, and now Jared Polis representing our interests as gay people in Congress, but I really think that when a straight person takes up a gay cause, it gives it much more credibility. When a gay politician is for gay rights, the sub text is that it is simply self serving for his community. When a straight person takes up gay rights, it truly becomes a civil rights/human rights issue and more people are convinced of its rightness.
Another problem is I don't think our gay Congressional leaders push hard enough. Maybe there is a bit of self censorship going on because they don't want to be perceived simply as the "gay" Congressman. They would rather be known as the the chair of this or that committee. As a result, they don't agitate enough on our issues.
The Civil Rights Movement did not really take off until white people began advocating for the rights of blacks as well as blacks themselves.
This may be our turning point, as straight politicians Congressman Jerry Nadler and Senator Patrick Leahy (two others we should consider heros) have become fierce advocates for the Uniting American Families Act, the bill that would recognize gay partnerships for immigration. Now we need a straight politician to take the lead on repealing DOMA.
Below are the co-sponsors of Congressman Murphy's DADT repeal bill. If yours is not on the list, get busy, call your Congressperson and ask him/her to co-sponsor. And don't let up until they do.
And don't forget the clip of Murphy in action at the end.
Rep Abercrombie, Neil [HI-1] - 3/3/2009
Rep Ackerman, Gary L. [NY-5] - 3/3/2009
Rep Andrews, Robert E. [NJ-1] - 3/3/2009
Rep Arcuri, Michael A. [NY-24] - 3/17/2009
Rep Baca, Joe [CA-43] - 7/8/2009
Rep Baird, Brian [WA-3] - 3/12/2009
Rep Baldwin, Tammy [WI-2] - 3/3/2009
Rep Becerra, Xavier [CA-31] - 6/16/2009
Rep Berkley, Shelley [NV-1] - 3/3/2009
Rep Berman, Howard L. [CA-28] - 3/3/2009
Rep Bishop, Timothy H. [NY-1] - 3/3/2009
Rep Blumenauer, Earl [OR-3] - 3/3/2009
Rep Brady, Robert A. [PA-1] - 3/3/2009
Rep Braley, Bruce L. [IA-1] - 6/8/2009
Rep Capps, Lois [CA-23] - 3/3/2009
Rep Capuano, Michael E. [MA-8] - 3/3/2009
Rep Carnahan, Russ [MO-3] - 4/27/2009
Rep Carson, Andre [IN-7] - 3/3/2009
Rep Castor, Kathy [FL-11] - 3/3/2009
Rep Christensen, Donna M. [VI] - 3/3/2009
Rep Clarke, Yvette D. [NY-11] - 3/3/2009
Rep Clay, Wm. Lacy [MO-1] - 3/3/2009
Rep Cleaver, Emanuel [MO-5] - 3/3/2009
Rep Cohen, Steve [TN-9] - 3/3/2009
Rep Conyers, John, Jr. [MI-14] - 3/3/2009
Rep Courtney, Joe [CT-2] - 3/3/2009
Rep Crowley, Joseph [NY-7] - 3/3/2009
Rep Cummings, Elijah E. [MD-7] - 3/3/2009
Rep Davis, Danny K. [IL-7] - 4/27/2009
Rep Davis, Susan A. [CA-53] - 3/3/2009
Rep DeFazio, Peter A. [OR-4] - 3/3/2009
Rep DeGette, Diana [CO-1] - 3/6/2009
Rep Delahunt, William D. [MA-10] - 3/3/2009
Rep DeLauro, Rosa L. [CT-3] - 3/3/2009
Rep Dicks, Norman D. [WA-6] - 3/9/2009
Rep Dingell, John D. [MI-15] - 3/3/2009
Rep Doggett, Lloyd [TX-25] - 4/2/2009
Rep Doyle, Michael F. [PA-14] - 3/3/2009
Rep Edwards, Donna F. [MD-4] - 3/3/2009
Rep Ellison, Keith [MN-5] - 3/3/2009
Rep Engel, Eliot L. [NY-17] - 3/3/2009
Rep Eshoo, Anna G. [CA-14] - 3/3/2009
Rep Farr, Sam [CA-17] - 3/3/2009
Rep Fattah, Chaka [PA-2] - 3/3/2009
Rep Filner, Bob [CA-51] - 3/3/2009
Rep Frank, Barney [MA-4] - 3/3/2009
Rep Gonzalez, Charles A. [TX-20] - 3/6/2009
Rep Grijalva, Raul M. [AZ-7] - 3/3/2009
Rep Gutierrez, Luis V. [IL-4] - 3/3/2009
Rep Hall, John J. [NY-19] - 3/3/2009
Rep Hare, Phil [IL-17] - 3/3/2009
Rep Harman, Jane [CA-36] - 3/3/2009
Rep Hastings, Alcee L. [FL-23] - 3/3/2009
Rep Heinrich, Martin [NM-1] - 6/26/2009
Rep Higgins, Brian [NY-27] - 4/29/2009
Rep Hinchey, Maurice D. [NY-22] - 3/3/2009
Rep Hirono, Mazie K. [HI-2] - 3/3/2009
Rep Holt, Rush D. [NJ-12] - 3/3/2009
Rep Honda, Michael M. [CA-15] - 3/3/2009
Rep Inslee, Jay [WA-1] - 3/3/2009
Rep Israel, Steve [NY-2] - 3/3/2009
Rep Jackson, Jesse L., Jr. [IL-2] - 3/9/2009
Rep Jackson-Lee, Sheila [TX-18] - 3/9/2009
Rep Johnson, Eddie Bernice [TX-30] - 3/3/2009
Rep Johnson, Henry C. "Hank," Jr. [GA-4] - 3/3/2009
Rep Kennedy, Patrick J. [RI-1] - 3/3/2009
Rep Kilpatrick, Carolyn C. [MI-13] - 3/5/2009
Rep Kilroy, Mary Jo [OH-15] - 3/5/2009
Rep Klein, Ron [FL-22] - 6/9/2009
Rep Kucinich, Dennis J. [OH-10] - 3/3/2009
Rep Langevin, James R. [RI-2] - 3/3/2009
Rep Larsen, Rick [WA-2] - 3/3/2009
Rep Larson, John B. [CT-1] - 6/23/2009
Rep Lee, Barbara [CA-9] - 3/3/2009
Rep Levin, Sander M. [MI-12] - 7/8/2009
Rep Lewis, John [GA-5] - 3/3/2009
Rep Loebsack, David [IA-2] - 3/3/2009
Rep Lofgren, Zoe [CA-16] - 3/3/2009
Rep Lowey, Nita M. [NY-18] - 3/3/2009
Rep Lujan, Ben Ray [NM-3] - 6/23/2009
Rep Lynch, Stephen F. [MA-9] - 3/3/2009
Rep Maloney, Carolyn B. [NY-14] - 3/3/2009
Rep Markey, Edward J. [MA-7] - 3/3/2009
Rep Massa, Eric J. J. [NY-29] - 3/23/2009
Rep Matsui, Doris O. [CA-5] - 3/3/2009
Rep McCarthy, Carolyn [NY-4] - 3/3/2009
Rep McCollum, Betty [MN-4] - 3/3/2009
Rep McDermott, Jim [WA-7] - 3/3/2009
Rep McGovern, James P. [MA-3] - 3/3/2009
Rep McMahon, Michael E. [NY-13] - 6/9/2009
Rep Meek, Kendrick B. [FL-17] - 3/3/2009
Rep Meeks, Gregory W. [NY-6] - 3/3/2009
Rep Michaud, Michael H. [ME-2] - 3/3/2009
Rep Miller, Brad [NC-13] - 3/23/2009
Rep Miller, George [CA-7] - 3/3/2009
Rep Moore, Gwen [WI-4] - 3/3/2009
Rep Moran, James P. [VA-8] - 3/3/2009
Rep Murphy, Christopher S. [CT-5] - 3/3/2009
Rep Murphy, Patrick J. [PA-8] - 3/3/2009
Rep Nadler, Jerrold [NY-8] - 3/3/2009
Rep Napolitano, Grace F. [CA-38] - 3/3/2009
Rep Norton, Eleanor Holmes [DC] - 3/3/2009
Rep Oberstar, James L. [MN-8] - 3/3/2009
Rep Olver, John W. [MA-1] - 3/3/2009
Rep Pallone, Frank, Jr. [NJ-6] - 3/3/2009
Rep Pascrell, Bill, Jr. [NJ-8] - 3/3/2009
Rep Pastor, Ed [AZ-4] - 3/3/2009
Rep Payne, Donald M. [NJ-10] - 3/3/2009
Rep Peters, Gary C. [MI-9] - 5/13/2009
Rep Pingree, Chellie [ME-1] - 3/3/2009
Rep Polis, Jared [CO-2] - 3/3/2009
Rep Price, David E. [NC-4] - 3/3/2009
Rep Quigley, Mike [IL-5] - 6/2/2009
Rep Richardson, Laura [CA-37] - 3/17/2009
Rep Ros-Lehtinen, Ileana [FL-18] - 3/3/2009
Rep Rothman, Steven R. [NJ-9] - 3/3/2009
Rep Roybal-Allard, Lucille [CA-34] - 3/3/2009
Rep Rush, Bobby L. [IL-1] - 3/3/2009
Rep Sanchez, Linda T. [CA-39] - 3/3/2009
Rep Sanchez, Loretta [CA-47] - 3/3/2009
Rep Sarbanes, John P. [MD-3] - 3/3/2009
Rep Schakowsky, Janice D. [IL-9] - 3/3/2009
Rep Schiff, Adam B. [CA-29] - 3/3/2009
Rep Schwartz, Allyson Y. [PA-13] - 3/3/2009
Rep Scott, Robert C. "Bobby" [VA-3] - 3/17/2009
Rep Serrano, Jose E. [NY-16] - 3/3/2009
Rep Sestak, Joe [PA-7] - 3/3/2009
Rep Shea-Porter, Carol [NH-1] - 3/3/2009
Rep Sherman, Brad [CA-27] - 3/3/2009
Rep Sires, Albio [NJ-13] - 3/3/2009
Rep Slaughter, Louise McIntosh [NY-28] - 3/3/2009
Rep Smith, Adam [WA-9] - 3/3/2009
Rep Snyder, Vic [AR-2] - 3/12/2009
Rep Speier, Jackie [CA-12] - 3/3/2009
Rep Stark, Fortney Pete [CA-13] - 3/3/2009
Rep Sutton, Betty [OH-13] - 3/3/2009
Rep Thompson, Mike [CA-1] - 3/3/2009
Rep Tierney, John F. [MA-6] - 3/3/2009
Rep Tonko, Paul D. [NY-21] - 3/17/2009
Rep Towns, Edolphus [NY-10] - 3/3/2009
Rep Tsongas, Niki [MA-5] - 3/3/2009
Rep Van Hollen, Chris [MD-8] - 3/3/2009
Rep Velazquez, Nydia M. [NY-12] - 3/3/2009
Rep Wasserman Schultz, Debbie [FL-20] - 3/3/2009
Rep Watson, Diane E. [CA-33] - 3/3/2009
Rep Waxman, Henry A. [CA-30] - 3/3/2009
Rep Weiner, Anthony D. [NY-9] - 3/3/2009
Rep Welch, Peter [VT] - 3/3/2009
Rep Wexler, Robert [FL-19] - 3/3/2009
Rep Woolsey, Lynn C. [CA-6] - 3/3/2009
Rep Wu, David [OR-1] - 3/3/2009
Rep Yarmuth, John A. [KY-3] - 6/9/2009
And don't forget to watch this clip of Murphy in action.
June 05, 2009
Posted by: Chris
Me thinks they doth protest too much, our friends at the Human Rights Campaign. Trevor Thomas has fired off an angry response by Blackberry to Jason Bellini's Daily Beast report alleging HRC cut a deal to delay pressing for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell until next year. Wrote Thomas:
This story is not only an outright lie, it is recklessly irresponsible. HRC never made such a deal and continues to work with congress and the administration on a full range of equality issues including a swift end to the military's shameful ban on gay servicemembers.
Considering that Bellini's claim to a go-slow deal on DADT was (a) sourced to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, and (b) confirmed on camera by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, thereby (c) confirming what Beltway gays have known for months, it appears that (d): HRC's Thomas, while using his Blackberry, was in fact talking out of a much lower extremity.
March 21, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
Finally, someone has put together an Omnibus Gay Rights Bill.
Tired of the piecemeal approach for equal rights taken by our leadership over the past 15 (or more) years, eQualityGiving decided to put it all on the table. If the goal is LGBT equality, let's spell out exactly what that means at the federal level -- in one bill. This is a very comprehensive, very well thought out proposal that has been months in the making. It is more than just the sum of the parts of our current proposals before Congress.
There are the major pros and cons of this approach. Critics will say that this bill is DOA. There is no way Congress will do all this. We aren't equal, we aren't close to being equal and they simply won't do it. Besides, a bill that encompasses so many issues will be split up and sent to a dozen different Congressional committees based on legislative jurisdiction, where it will turn into mincemeat when finished .....if it ever survives any of the committees.
The pro side says that we need to show Congress what true equality really looks like for the LGBT community. When you spell out what true equality is, it is glaringly obvious that we are second class citizens at best and in many cases -- non citizens. At the least this proposal can be used as the gold standard, the measuring stick, against which all piecemeal legislation will be measured.
So after ENDA (the Employment Non Discrimination Act) is passed and everyone says, wow how great, we can point to the Equality Bill and say, OK, that's a little bit of what is necessary, but look at how much is still missing. I think that alone makes this bill worthwhile to have around.
A lot of work by a lot of smart and enthusiastic people went into crafting this proposed legislation. I think you should take a look at it to see how good it is. It addresses everything but marriage at the state level, which is not a federal issue.
Feel free to tell us what you think.
Full disclosure: I am a member of eQualityGiving.
March 15, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
History repeats itself. That is the theme in Frank Rich's wonderful Op Ed The Culture Warriors Get Laid Off in today's New York Times.
According to Rich, we are entering a new period where the public has again tired of the anti-science, let me impose my values on you crowd. After the major economic downturn we have experienced over the past year, the culture wars are a luxury we can no longer afford. The same sort of cultural reversal happened in 1933 during The Great Depression.
In the period leading up to the Depression fundamentalists pushed for Prohibition and anti-evolution legislation - succeeding on both counts. The Depression ended all that nonsense. In the period leading up to today's great recession, the fundamentalists peddled an anti-gay, anti-stem cell research agenda and also succeeded broadly.
Now history is repeating itself. Anti-stem cell research was reversed last week by President Obama with only a whimper from the religious right and public opinion is showing majority support on most of the crucial gay rights issues - employment, the military, and our relationships.
We need to take advantage of this moment in history. FDR demonstrated that a president can lead a nation to reform on cultural issues when the country's mood changes. Obama should follow that example. As the saying goes - it is his moment, it is his time.
March 11, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
When the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy is gone and buried, Nathaniel Frank's new book "Unfriendly Fire, How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military" will be credited as having put the last nail in the coffin of this inane, discriminatory policy.
This is a wonderfully written scholarly work that conclusively proves that the gay ban actually weakens the military, rather than helps it.
In a fascinating program that the author has arranged with certain book stores, if you buy a copy of the book, a second copy will be offered to you at half price which will be sent to a US Congressman or Senator's office, to convince them (or their staff) that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" actually harms the military. Once all 535 members of Congress have received the book via this program, they will start sending copies to generals in the Pentagon.
Frank interviewed hundreds of people for this book, and one hopeful fact is that many people in the Pentagon now admit that they were wrong when they supported this policy 15 years ago. They now acknowledge that the policy was based solely on ignorance and prejudice.
If your local bookstore does not offer the special deal to send a second copy of the book to a member of Congress, our gay bookstore in Atlanta, Outwrite Bookstore and Coffehouse does, and they will be happy to help you. If for some reason you can't order online, their phone number is 404-607-0082.
Above is the clip from Frank's interview on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart Monday night. Did you know that there is a "Queen for the Day" exception to the DADT policy? Watch the video and learn.
February 09, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
"And to choose a felon over a combat-proven veteran on the basis of sexuality is defeatist. Ask any squad leader," counsels Owen West, a straight veteran in an Op Ed in today's New York Times. His piece lays out one of the best lines of reasoning I have seen on repealing the 'don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy enacted by Congress in 1993.
He advises Obama not to make repealing DADT into an argument about civil rights and equality, as President Clinton tried to do in 1993, but rather concentrate on helping the military and advance a line of evidence that repealing DADT is what's best for the military. He cites the example of after the integration of the military in 1948, during war time (the Korean War) even the generals acknowledged that recruiting across America's socio-economic specturm produced the best force.
I hope the White House reads this piece. Maybe we should send it to them.
January 28, 2009
Posted by: Chris
You know that when Fox News publishes commentary opposing repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell by a Marine reservist who has a history in gay porn and prostitution that the result is going to be a fun read.
Matt Sanchez made headlines back in 2007 when his queer past surfaced after he had been feted by conservatives for whining about derogatory language he claims a couple of socialist students used against him at Columbia University. He later admitted to performing in a handful of XXX gay films in the early '90s under the names "Rod Majors" and "Pierre LeBranche."
Sanchez claims he was strictly gay-for-pay, though gay blogger Andy Towle has written about meeting Sanchez in a San Jose gay bar back in 1989, and the two subsequently went on several dates. Sanchez also acknowledged (after initial denials) that he was running gay adult massage ads in the New York Blade as late as 2004, the year after he joined the Marine reserves.
With that background in mind, here are a few snippets of what Sanchez the Fox News "war correspondent" has to say about Don't Ask Don't Tell, the very policy he violated back in 2004:
Although “the primary purpose of the armed forces is to prepare for and to prevail in combat should the need arise”, forcing the military to legitimize same-sex relationships will be a Trojan Horse for imposing gay marriage nationwide and all in the name of “change.”
The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) would force the United States military to accept the future same-sex marriages of those serving. Activists would use this federal recognition of gay marriage in the military to challenge and force a repeal of state constitutional amendments, but wedding bells are not the only reason why gay advocates and military officials should not be heading to the altar.
I've been in and around the gay rights movement for more than a decade, and this is the first I've ever heard of this alleged strategy -- for which Sanchez provides absolutely no citation, of course.
Many pro-gay groups hold up the example of international armed forces throughout the world that have lifted bans on homosexuality. It is true: France, Germany, Italy and Spain all permit openly gay service members. But in Afghanistan, neither France, Spain, Italy or Germany will confront the Taliban.
Sanchez conveniently leaves out the U.K. military, which has joined the U.S. in battling the Taliban, and which not just allows gays to serve but aggressively recruits them.
Will gay service members have to be separated from their non-gay service members? Will separate showers and living quarters be required? Or will there be all-gay military units? Will gays who don’t wish to self-identify be forced to do so?
Ahh yes, the old personal privacy canard, one that clearly poses no personal problem for Sanchez, the exhibitionist. As Sanchez himself proves, gays have been able to lawfully serve in the military since 2003 1993, when DADT replaced the outright ban on gays in the military, so whatever privacy issues exist are already dealt with.
What's more, allowing gays to serve openly would actually improve the privacy of heterosexual soldiers and sailors, who currently have no idea who among their compatriots is gay. Once a service member comes out, those with want to hide their naughty bits can do so much more effectively, and the openly gay soldier will no doubt make much more of an effort to avoid anyone thinking he might be leering.
The new commander-in-chief can unilaterally repeal Don’t ask Don’t Tell with a stroke of a pen, but [President Obama] has held back.
Wrong again, Matt. Congress passed DADT, and President Clinton signed it into law. Only a new act of Congress can repeal the ban and allow gays to serve openly.
January 09, 2009
Posted by: Andoni
UPDATE AT END
Future White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today answered some of the questions posed to president elect Barack Obama on his official website change.gov after round two of questions. In a video clip on Obama's web site Gibbs answers about five questions, with the one on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" being the last, at around the 4 minute 18 second mark. Here's what he said, as transcribed by me.
Gibbs (showing the question): Thaddeus from Lansing, Michigan asked, "Is the new administration going to get rid of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy?"
Gibbs (answer): That is Thaddeus, you don't hear a politician give a one word answer much, but it's "Yes."
Not that this is anything new. Obama has promised this from the beginning. But it certainly is refreshing to hear it again, after the election and from his official future White House spokesperson.
I don't know why they decided to answer this question. It wasn't one of the over-all top vote getters. It wasn't even one of the top gay question vote getters. Maybe its because there had been rumors circulating that they were going to delay repealing DADT and they wanted to squelch the rumors. But then again, "yes" doesn't exactly say when, does it?
UPDATE: Today's New York Times also notes that when Gibbs answered this question he did not say when the repeal would occur and suggested that repealing DADT is one of the items on Obama's agenda that might have to be postponed because of all the effort that is going to have to be made to fix the economy.
Although I understand all this, this situation it is very frustrating. Now for the first time in 16 years we have the opportunity to pass major reforms that are long overdue. However, because the Bush Administration so trashed the economy (and country), the public demands that the economy be fixed first, so we are in a familiar quandary. If for any reason, the public turns on Obama and the Democrats (the economy doesn't get fixed, there is an internal attack, the overseas wars spiral out of control, etc), we will be left with another change of power (back to the Republicans), and another lost opportunity.
We cannot allow that to happen. If necessary, we should insist that if Dems are significantly diminished or turned out of power, that they must return for a lame duck session to pass all those promised pieces of legislation before they bid their final good-byes to Washington.
December 14, 2008
Posted by: Andoni
The Advocate just published 26 open letters to Barack Obama from prominent LGBT Americans advising him on the important issues we face as a community and making suggestions on how he should address them. These letters are fascinating to read.
Some are from leaders of single issue organizations and they concentrate mainly on their own issue. Others simply repeat the list of narrow items that have been on HRC's agenda for what seems like forever, you know, Hate Crimes, ENDA, etc. A few push Obama beyond what he has volunteered to give us, such as Evan Wolfson's appeal for full marriage equality.
My favorite four letters cite the inequities in U.S. immigration laws for gay and lesbian citizens, a subject dear to my heart, and specifically ask Obama to remedy this situation by ushering through Congress the Uniting American Families Act or recognizing our relationships for immigration. These letters are from Rachel Tiven, Vestal McIntyre, Jim Buzinski, and Lorri Jean.
But what struck me most about these letters was how timid the ones from the people we consider our national leaders are. In particular, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin simply asks for Hate Crimes legislation, a T inclusive ENDA, domestic partnership for federal employees (for federal workers only and only a very few of those 1200 federal benefits), and repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." No great vision.
Joe Solmonese , President of the Human Rights Campaign doesn't suggest anything, he simply offers that HRC will work with the president.
And none of these leaders picks up on a monumental issue Barack Obama has put in writing that he would like to give us.....it's right there in his Agenda items under Civil Rights on his webpage and is called the The Obama-Biden Plan. Barack says that we need to
...enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions.
This is powerful stuff folks. If we pass this legislation, it would bring more gays rights to more Americans than all the other items on HRC's list combined. This legislation means that if a gay couple has a legally-recognzied union (any couple can go to VT to get civil unioned or MA to get married - both legally recognized unions), the federal goverment would then grant you those 1200 federal benefits that married opposite sex couples have. This is seismic. And recognition of our relationships has an approval rating of 55-66% as long as you don't call it marriage. This could be easier to pass than the controversial T inclusive ENDA.
Barack Obama is proposing one great piece of legislation here, yet none of our leaders seems to have noticed. None of our national organizations have picked up on this item on his agenda to begin working on it with him; none of our Congressional leaders are writing such a bill that the president would welcome.
It's time to stop thinking about getting our rights one small sliver at a time. It's time to start thinking bigger and grander than most of our leaders and national organizations are doing.
It's mind boggling that none of our leaders in Congress or our national organizations seem to have realized the full potential of what Obama is proposing. If passed this legislation would bring more equality, more happiness to more LGB Americans than any other piece of legislation I can think of.
The letters in the Advocate indicate to me that most of our leaders are aiming too low and aren't fully listening to Obama to take advantage of all that he is offering.
November 24, 2008
Posted by: Chris
Are we already seeing Rahm Emanuel's fingerprints?
From the (anti-gay) Washington Times:
President-elect Barack Obama will not move for months, and perhaps not until 2010, to ask Congress to end the military's decades-old ban on open homosexuals in the ranks, two people who have advised the Obama transition team on this issue say.
Repealing the ban was an Obama campaign promise. However, Mr. Obama first wants to confer with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his new political appointees at the Pentagon to reach a consensus and then present legislation to Congress, the advisers said.
"I think 2009 is about foundation building and reaching consensus," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
What does it say about what lies ahead if Barack Obama's top staffer believes Bill Clinton's biggest mistake on gay issues was not throwing us under the bus but (once in a blue moon) supporting us?
And what does it say for our movement that its leaders often sound like White House flaks the way they make excuses for equality further delayed?
November 19, 2008
Posted by: Chris
UPDATE: At the end of the post.
When the election of Barack Obama sent many gay Americans dancing into the streets -- figuratively and literally -- celebrating, my dear friend Kevin offered a sober, some might say cynical, reality check:
[W]hy gay Americans should be shitting themselves with glee right now is, frankly, something I can't comprehend. The 2008 election was, in fact, a disaster for gays. And as the reality of our situation in America sets in over the coming days, as well as the next two years, it seems that nothing but a crashing disillusionment set against the backdrop of such wild celebrations last night is the only thing that could smack the gay community awake once and for all.
Well, we all saw how the dancing celebrations quickly transformed themselves into angry protest, for day after day in California and culminating in a National Day of Protest on Saturday that was unprecedented in size, reach and energy. (I say that having participated in both the 1993 and 2000 Marches on Washington.) Already there are creative campaigns to shine blue lights outside homes and businesses in support of equality, as well as talk of additional protests, including during inauguration weekend, and maybe even another March on Washington in May.
However you feel about street protests, it's no fair tsk-tsk-ing these folks for wild-eyed optimism about Obama's election. Clearly, they see the need for continued activism and continued pressure.
It's also becoming more apparent than political climate in Washington for gay rights is not the same today as it was in 1992, as much as my bah humbug friends would have us believe. For one thing, the president-elect has already reiterated in writing the promises he made during the campaign to push for a wide array of federal LGBT rights. He didn't have to do that; anyone named Clinton certainly wouldn't have.
Just today on the Hill, a leading House Democrat predicted repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" during the first year of the Obama administration. Does that make it so? Of course not, but she also didn't have to do it. Like the Obama-Biden Plan on LGBT Rights, the promise made by Rep. Ellen Tauscher is an early sign, mere days after the election, that real change may well be coming to America.
I do not agree with Kevin, either as a historical or prospective matter, that "the national Democratic Party doesn't care one bit about gay rights, beyond pleasant words and reaping big, pliant cash donations." I have been as critical over the years as anyone of their inaction and unfulfilled promises. No doubt they take advantage, and no doubt they milk us again and again.
But they do care about gay rights, in my view, just as their GOP counterparts care about opposing gay rights and limiting legal access to abortion. The reality that gives rise to the cynicism is that politicians of all stripes tend toward the cowardly, doing the absolute minimum they think they can get away with.
That is where we come in, and why continued pressure from us, if not from our supposed leadership, is so critical. If the Democrats co-opt us into believing only hate crimes and ENDA are achievable in Obama's first year or first term, then that's surely all that we'll get. But, my bah humbug friends, the same holds true if we give in to cynicism -- confusing 2008 with 1992 and Barack Obama with Bill (or Hillary) Clinton. Cynicism can lower your sights, just as being coopted can, and you're left in the same place as the very HRC-ites you justifiably condemn.
In that respect, Barack Obama was absolutely right. We are the change we've been waiting for.
Know Hope But Verify.
One grassroots effort that sprung up in response to Prop 8 offers a creative way to keep the pressure on the Obama-Biden team. Project Postcard, initiated by a group called the LGBTQ Civil RIghts Front, suggests mailing a postcard from your hometown with a "friendly little reminder" of candidate Obama's gay rights promises.
Here's the address:
President-elect Barack Obama
Presidential Transition Office
Kluczynski Federal Building
230 S. Dearborn St., 38th Floor
Chicago, IL 60604
The Project's organizers suggest using the text of the postcard to call for repeal of DOMA, which certainly sounds good to me, but I would go one step further, calling for passage of a federal civil unions law:
Dear President-elect Obama,
Please ask Congress to enact a Federal Civil Unions Act repeal DOMA! All Americans should have the right to marry. Thank you in advance for advocating for the civil rights of your LGBT citizens.
Will a bunch of postcards change the world? Of course not. But it's going to be up to each and every one of us to do what we can to keep up the pressure, since it's unlikely to come from our "leaders" in Washington.
November 14, 2008
Posted by: Chris
There are more signs that initial impressions were correct about the administration of President-Elect Barack Obama tackling little more than enactment of already-popular, long-stalled measures like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act.
First there was the buzz that Sam Nunn, ringleader behind the so-called compromise policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," would "lead the handover team for the Department of Defense." It was Nunn, you will recall, who blindsided the newly-elected president from his own party in early 1993 by sounding the alarm about Bill Clinton's campaign promise to eliminate the ban on gays in the military.
The Obama team walked back those initial reports, insisting Nunn had no formal role in the presidential transition, but nonetheless acknowledged the former Georgia senator, now 70, "will play an informal senior advisor role throughout the defense transition process" because "his expertise and the respect he has earned will be invaluable."
Trumpeting "respect" for the man who crippled a new Democratic president by playing to bigotry is sure to hit a false note with many Obama supporters. So will word that Jamie Gorelick, Defense Department counsel during the Clinton years, is being considered for attorney general.
Gorelick has all sorts of baggage relating to her role in curbing anti-terrorism intelligence and later becoming a multimillionaire running Fannie Mae, but we gays will never forget her role as the legal architect behind "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." It was Gorelick who created the legal fiction that DADT regulates "conduct" not free speech or "status" as gay, lesbian or bisexual.
Well, not "conduct" per se, but proclivity to engage in conduct. So if a soldier or sailor says he is gay, his statement is taken under Gorelick's DADT framework as a rebuttable admission that he has a proclivity to engage in "homosexual conduct" -- meaning not just sodomy but holding hands, kissing, anything particularly homo.
Never mind that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws that criminalize sodomy in 2003; the military still uses Gorelick's DADT fiction to defend its indefensible policy, which the president-elect has said was wrong-headed from the start and harmful to our national security.
Finally, as if all that weren't enough, there is a depressing coda to my earlier post about how Rahm Emanuel, the new White House Chief of Staff, tamped down expectations that Obama would tackle gay issues early on in his administration.
Gay F.O.B. David Mixner apparently told harrowing stories in his 1996 book "Stranger Among Friends" about the arrogant atitude taken by Emanuel, a top Clinton advisor, took toward gays when DADT first hit the proverbial fan:
When President Clinton said publicly that he "wouldn't rule out" an idea to allow the military to segregate openly gay service members from straight ones, Mixner tried to contact the White House for an explanation.
"We don't have to explain or justify our actions to you," said Emanuel, according to Mixner. "If the President of the United States never does another thing for you people, you should get on your knees and be thankful. He's already done more for you all than anyone. How dare you question his actions!"
Mixner said Emanuel ultimately finished the phone conversation by saying "I will not talk to you anymore" and hanging up. Emanuel, he said, "made it very clear that he would decide what would be recommended to the President."
From his point of view, Emanuel told the Wall Street Journal, Mixner "unjustly criticized" Clinton. "If somebody criticizes the president," he said, "then I think they are persona non grata."
(An excellent article by former Blade editor Lisa Keen also retells Mixner's harrowing encounter with Emanuel over who would pay to replace trampled grass after the 1993 March on Washington. Rejecting any government responsibility, Emanuel said "some of your rich boys" should pay. Geffen can do it. So can several others. They'll want to please the president." Is there any better analogy to the Clinton-Dem attitude toward "you people?")
There's also hope that Emanuel, who compiled a gay rights record in Congress that is better than the Obama's, has mellowed somewhat on gay issues. Mixner himself remains cautiously optimistic:
When asked about Obama's choice of Emanuel for Chief of Staff, Mixner called him an "excellent choice."
"He should just remember it is sixteen years later and a lot of things have changed since then," said Mixner. "I am sure he is aware of it."
To borrow from Reagan, later paraphrased by Sullivan: Know Hope But Verify.
July 25, 2008
Posted by: Andoni
Yesterday Chris analyzed the Congressional hearings on the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. He did this as a journalist who remembers the disastrous last go around when this policy was discussed in 1993 and also as a journalist who happens to be gay and comprehends on all levels why DADT is wrong.
I found another particularly insightful view on the DADT hearings on Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish, by hilzoy, someone who apparently is straight and was struck emotionally by two moments during the hearings. Getting people to feel an emotion is always better at getting their attention and effecting change, more so than any intellectual argument you can make. The hearings in 1993 concentrated on the emotion fear. Check out the two emotions hilzoy felt while watching these 2008 hearings.
July 24, 2008
Posted by: Chris
Little news was expected from Congressional hearings today on legislation to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prohibits gays from serving openly in the military. Much like the last hearings held on the subject, way back in 1993, the witness list was pretty much lop-sided.
Last time around, even though Democrats were in control, then-Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, worked in bipartisan fashion with bigoted Republicans like Strom Thurmond of South Carolina to put up three or four witnesses opposing President Bill Clinton's campaign promise to repeal the ban on gays in the military for every one who supported it.
Those gay veterans with the temerity to show up for the hearing were subjected to questioning that was offensive then -- and seems downright loonie now. Thurmond, in particular, would ask in his Southern drawl, "Did you ever seek psiiiichological hep fo' yo' problem?"
Donnelly treated the panel to an extraordinary exhibition of rage. She warned of "transgenders in the military." She warned that lesbians would take pictures of people in the shower. She spoke ominously of gays spreading "HIV positivity" through the ranks.
"We're talking about real consequences for real people," Donnelly proclaimed. Her written statement added warnings about "inappropriate passive/aggressive actions common in the homosexual community," the prospects of "forcible sodomy" and "exotic forms of sexual expression," and the case of "a group of black lesbians who decided to gang-assault" a fellow soldier.
At the witness table with Donnelly, retired Navy Capt. Joan Darrah, a lesbian, rolled her eyes in disbelief. Retired Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, a gay man who was wounded in Iraq, looked as if he would explode.
If reaction from House members was any indication, Donnelly's outlandish arguments only served to undercut her cause:
Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) labeled her statement "just bonkers" and "dumb," and he called her claims about an HIV menace "inappropriate." Said Snyder: "By this analysis . . . we ought to recruit only lesbians for the military, because they have the lowest incidence of HIV in the country."
That said, inane arguments from the right and public support at a remarkable 75 percent aren't enough to motivate Democrats into doing anything more than holding hearings on the repeal bill. Despite repeated promises to the contrary, the election year is already being blamed for the stalled legislation.
Considering Democrats couldn't manage to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act despite bipartisan majority support in both houses of Congress and overwhelming public support, it's no surprise that they won't touch the third rail of national defense for the sake of us queers.