CAT | Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Yesterday and today at 12:01 a.m. showcased two significant points for the history of the LGBT community: (1) yesterday, Chaz Bono competed as a proud and open transgender man on the ABC hit show, “Dancing with the Stars” [video posted below] and (2) at 12:01 a.m. this morning, the repeal of the discriminatory law “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became effective, allowing full and open service for gay, lesbian, and bisexual members of the armed forces.
If following numerous LGBT news outlets and bloggers on Twitter is any indication, the outpouring of support from the LGBT community of Chaz Bono has been incredible. The number of #TeamChaz and #ProBono—I especially like that one—hashtags that have popped up, as well those passing along the information to vote for Chaz, has been overwhelming.
That the entire LGBT community is behind Chaz is especially significant with openly gay contestant Carson Kressley—most known for his role in the show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”—also in the competition. Understandably, and I agree entirely, the LGBT community recognizes that the success of Chaz in the competition—and the increased visibility for the transgender community and the discussions in the media that will follow—is more important than the success of an openly gay contestant.
Watch Chaz’s performance here:
Just a few hours after Chaz’s performance aired, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell became effective. In recognizing and celebrating the repeal, the Army’s repeal letter, filled will supporting and affirming language, was passed around the internet. The story of a Navy officer marrying his partner of 11 years just after midnight became well-known, and the video of a service member coming out live was shared on YouTube. The Advocate announced that it is “Time to Celebrate!” and listed events planned around the country.
With repeal of DADT, universities backed away from varying stances in opposition of military presence. Harvard and Yale both decided to reinstate their ROTC programs. Vermont Law School decided to allow military recruiters on campus.
Allowing the military to have full access to the campuses as a reward for repealing DADT sends the message that full and open service for the LGB community is alone satisfactory. Unfortunately, this leaves the transgender community behind and forced to remain in the closet (presenting as the gender matching their biological sex at birth rather than their true gender identity).
This bothers me. It splinters the community. While the LGB are happily celebrating, there is no less incentive or motivation (or even leverage) to seek the same equality and open service for the transgender community.
Several countries (Spain, New Zealand, and some others) already allow open service and support the transgender community. As far as I know, despite the typical fears announced by those opposed to the LGBT community, integration of the transgender communities in these militaries has been without incident.
All I ask, is that in this time of celebrating the repeal of DADT, we do not forget the discrimination that continues against the transgender community. We much continue to fight for their right to serve openly and proudly for this country.
A Facebook group was set up to recognize the continued discrimination, in light of repeal, calling today “a bittersweet day.” I encourage you to “attend” the event and honor their request to recognize the continued discrimination with a moment of silence as you celebrate the great news of DADT repeal.
Go Chaz! And let’s keep fighting for the equality of all under the broad LGBT (and all other letters) community.
On this Memorial Day, first and foremost, the lives lost defending this country and our freedoms must be remembered, honored, and commemorated. We who benefit from their service and sacrifice must never forget our fortunes.
Our gratitude certainly should have no bounds: all races, men and women, gay and straight have all sacrificed their lives for us. And as we benefit from their sacrifice, that we still disgrace their service with the discriminatory program of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is an insult to the freedoms of equality they fight to defend.
Now, last week, there was some historic legislation passed in the House which may lead to the repeal of DADT. Be wary of the reports you hear or read, however. The legislation is no more than another form of compromise flaunted as a victory by those who needed to back up their big talk—HRC and President Obama. Obama sent out a letter claiming that he lived up to his word, delivered on campaign promises, and made the repeal a priority. Queerty certainly does not agree, responding to those three claims as misleading, spin, and a lie.
HRC and Obama spoke of the legislation as if it were repeal; yet, there is no actual repeal language in the legislation. Rather, it passes the buck and leaves the decision of repeal up to the President, Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. But it also gives no definite timeline to do so. Even if the legislation passes the Senate, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” could remain in effect indefinitely. Is that something to celebrate? I’ll wait to pour the champagne until soldiers are actually free to serve openly without fear of discharge.
Lt. Dan Choi wrote a blog for Newsweek continuing the theme of those who are not satisfied: “On Monday, when I learned of the president’s compromised approach to repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” I felt betrayed. I am not celebrating now.”
“[The compromise] is the result of a White House that has been AWOL on “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal for the last year and a half, and now is desperately trying to find a solution—any solution, regardless of how unworkable—to a problem and a promise it would rather just go away.”
And although the compromise itself may not be something to celebrate, House Representative Steny Hoyer’s (D-MD) speech on the floor is worth recognizing. Watch the video, with my favorite part coming at 0:48 to 2:32, transcribed below.
But in the late 50s and early 60s, the mote force for the young people in this country was civil rights. It was about living out the promise of American equality. It was about a commitment of this country, which was the bedrock of this country, that all men were created equal and endowed, not by us, but by their creator with certain unalienable rights.
And I will tell my friends, I have some rhetoric here that was used in 1940, 41, 42, 43, 45, 46, when there were some Americans you didn’t have to ask, they didn’t have to tell, because you knew they were African Americans. There was no hiding that. And we segregated them. And I heard Strom Thurmond stand on the floor of the Senate, he was a Democrat, speaking about discriminating against people because the color of their skin. Separate but equal. I’ve heard the same rhetoric.
Let me read some of it. “The army is the wrong place for social experiments. Keep African Americans in their place.” I was angered in the 1950s and 1960s when I saw that kind of rhetoric, because I thought that was not the American that I was so proud of. Hear that language that was used back in 1948. And read the transcripts today.
It has been a very, very busy week for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Between speeches, protests, political promises, and more planned protests, Lt. Dan Choi’s (@ltdanchoi) tweet–“It’s the tipping point!”–is the best summation. With at least 443 discharges so far in the 2009 fiscal year, even if that shows a downward trend, the number of families and careers that are being upended by this unfounded and disgraceful policy is unacceptable.
I’m going to do my best to give you a quick summation of the events, add a quick bit of own commentary, and supply links to the news sources so you can delve deeper, if so inclined.
GetEQUAL’s significant displays of civil disobedience
GetEQUAL, an organization that recently sprung up in the wake of the National Equality March, is raising serious hell and making their presence known.
The first example: GetEQUAL confronts President Obama at a DNC fundraising campaign for California Senator Barbara Boxer. During Obama’s speech, the protestors completely interrupted the President’s normal flow as an orator, demanding to be heard. The Advocate ran an article covering the monumental event, capturing the effect of the event: it made sure Obama knew we were frustrated and “the pooler”—the message distributed to national media outlets—had a gay-centric headline rather than a message about the fundraiser.
You can watch the video here; the protestors get loud, causing a reaction from Obama at 1:05, 2:10, and 5:00.
What I really like about this demonstration is how clear the message had to have been to Obama: we are, seriously, not satisfied with only his words when his inaction says so much more. Obama tried to calm the protestors saying that he and Barbara Boxer were allies, that he agreed DADT should be repealed, and that he was on our side.
But Obama, who has said that he is in no place to tell the LGBT community to “wait our turn” for equality, must understand that he is one of the people standing in our way right now.
In a last gasp to get the protesters to shush, so he could continue with his speech, Obama said they should be hollering at those who oppose repeal, not those who support it. As if Obama knew what GetEQUAL already had planned…
The second example: just today, 5 people from GetEQUAL, and fellow advocacy group the Human & Equal Rights Organizers (H.E.R.O.’s website), insisted to speak with Arizona Senator John McCain at his office. McCain’s flip-flopping stance on DADT is well-documented (and mocked by Stephen Colbert).
The 5 brave protesters refused to leave his office until they could speak to McCain or were arrested. When given one last chance to leave on their own accord, they responded, “We will only leave when he speaks to us so I guess arrest us.” And they were arrested.
If you want to call McCain’s office to say he should support repeal of DADT or to call him a coward for not speaking to his constituents, here is his office number in Arizona: (602) 952-2410 and his office in D.C.: (202) 224-2235.
Rally in Washington D.C.: Sunday, May 2nd, 12pm noon at Lafayette Square
When I said that GetEQUAL was making their presence known, I was not kidding. Aside from their frequent displays of civil disobedience (there have been others I did not mention above), they are organizing a rally in Washington, D.C. for Sunday, May 2nd at 12:00pm at Lafayette Square.
This is the event that Lt. Dan Choi called the tipping point. He tweeted: “I’ll be there; it’s the tipping point! #DADT Protest Rally Noon May 2 (Sun) in DC. Spread the word! http://tinyurl.com/28bvh4n”
Promotion video for the rally:
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi planning vote on DADT in 2010
Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesperson, told the DC Agenda that Pelosi intends to have a vote on DADT this year. The DC Agenda’s article notes that this is promising because Pelosi has yet to put legislation to the floor that doesn’t have sufficient support for passage. The article continues to note how this small act makes the issue of repeal serious to the rest of Congress and to the President: “The hour for the president as well as for the leadership to become engaged is now.”
Hopefully, these pressures from various sources outside the political sphere and from within will lead to serious consideration and progress in the repeal of this silly law.
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network launches letter campaign
This campaign by the SLDN presents the most personal message to Obama. The campaign titled, “Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama,” will sent a letter to Obama every weekday from a different person impacted by the discriminatory law. The campaign seeks to have repeal language included in the Defense Authorization bill in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.
The first letter in the campaign was sent today, April 26th, from Major Mike Almy of the United States Air Force.
Almy opens: “Dear Mr. President, If you end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), I’d re-enlist the day you sign repeal into law.” He continues by describing his 13 years of service filled with accolades and awards. He discusses the military legacy of his family and how, growing up, he always knew he’d service in the military.
After his fourth deployment to the Middle East, where he was named one of the top officers in his career field for the entire Air Force, his work email was searched (personal emails were off-limits due to security limitations), revealing a correspondence with his significant other, a man. This “modern day letter home” led to Almy being relieved of his duties.
Even after being relieved of duty for a year and while his discharge was still under review, Almy’s Wing Commander recommended he be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. But instead, after 16 months, he was escorted off base and officially discharged.
And yet, Almy closes his email like a true hero: “Despite this treatment, my greatest desire is still to return to active duty as an officer and leader in the United States Air Force, protecting the freedoms of a nation that I love; freedoms that I myself was not allowed to enjoy while serving in the military.”
The fact that we keep great men and women, like Almy, from serving in our military is an absolute disgrace that will remain a scar on our history for every day DADT is in effect. The time for repeal is now.
Although Obama’s State of the Union address did not have much substance for gay rights, the swift response to the proclamation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been reassuring. Senate held a hearing this week to consider the ramifications of repeal and it has been in the news ever since.
Admiral Mike Mullen has spoken and written with conviction. Colin Powell, who was one of the reasons we even have DADT, now thinks the law should be repealed. John McCain, who in 2006 said he would defer to the military leaders advice on the issue, is now ignoring it— Stephen Colbert had a field day with this flip-flop.
My favorite response this week has to be Lt. Dan Choi’s article, “When our Honor Code becomes a Jilted Lover, it wants revenge,” posted on The Bilerico Project. As a prestigious West Point graduate, armed with a skill set in linguistics that few in the world possess and a commitment to this country, his pending discharge under DADT is reprehensible.
He writes candidly on the conflict between DADT, which promotes hiding, lying, and deception, and the honesty, integrity, and courage taught at West Point and throughout the military ranks: “The reason why Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is repugnant is clear: it enforces lying, hiding, and closeted paranoia.”
He also points out that countries around the world have reason to laugh at us for our unsubstantiated stance: “Our allies laugh at us with patronizing glare that is earned by our cowardice to follow our own doctrines and values. Our doctrine must begin with our perennial goal: Win the War. Our values must begin with cold hard truth telling. Kicking out Arabic, Farsi, Pashto and Urdu linguists who tell the truth about their orientation and love relationships validates neither our doctrines nor our values.”
Choi closes by quoting directly from the West Point honor code: “A cadet will not lie… nor tolerate those who do.” Choi then writes, “Until I am allowed to follow West Point’s Honor Code, I am not satisfied.”
Bravo. He is the type of courageous and loyal soldier that this country has always loved. He is a hero in my book, and I’m sure the history books will say the same when this silly debate is behind us.
If you want to read more responses to the DADT hearing, David Mixner has compiled a list of some excellent ones.
I do not have too much to say about President Obama’s State of the Union address from tonight, because, well, he did not have much to say about the fight for equal rights for the gay community either. One little blip in a 70 minute speech is not the “fierce advocate” he promised to be for us.
He can go on, and on, and on about the 10% of people that are unemployed (and I in no way want to undervalue the importance of that issue with this comparison), but 10% of the country is also GLBT (give or take), and he essentially ignored us.
Now, while the State of the Union is full of pizzazz and media coverage, there was a far more important political development today that must not go unnoticed. Today, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act of 2010, to the House of Representatives.
The bill, as described by the HRC news report, “prohibits discrimination against any public school student on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”
This legislation is immensely significant. The bullying that GLBT youth face in schools leads to devastating results. The suicides, murders, and beatings of countless youth last year and in recent memory must be protected against.
If you want to read more about studies that show how sexual identity affects depression, suicide rates, etc, there is an excellent article here.
I hope this legislation progression through its stages as a bill as swiftly and unopposed as possible.