Thursday, June 03, 2010






"When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men, and a discharge for loving one." So reads the tombstone of Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Air Force. After 12 years of outstanding service, Matlovich wrote a letter to his commanding officer explaining he was gay. This was March 6, 1975 and he was then subjected to a week long hearing (starting September 16, 1975) at Langley Air Force Base. Nearly 22 year before Ellen DeGeneres declared "Yep, I'm Gay" on the cover of Time magazine (April 14, 1997), Matlovich appeared on the cover of Time magazine (September 8, 1975) announcing "I Am a Homosexual." ( where he was released from the military. Matlovich fought back for years, eventually taking a settlement (including an honorable discharge and $160,000 in back pay). (Martin Duberman covered the hearing for the New York Times Sunday magazine in "The Case Of The Gay Sergeant; Leonard Matlovich's strange trial betrayed a profound shift in American attitudes -- and not only toward sexuality" with an indepth look at the witnesses and events -- including Matlovich being asked to sign a statement swearing he would never practice same-sex relations and you can click here for Time magazine's much more brief September 1975 report on the hearing.) 35 years after Matlovich began his fight for equality within the military, the battle continues.
KPFT's Queer Voices (out of Houston -- and Mike covers it at his site) is among the programs that features This Way Out's weekly newswrap and we'll note this from the latest:
A critical US Senate Committee and the full House of Representatives each took steps this week to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in America's military. The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16 to 12 to approve a repeal admendment to the annual national defense authorization act earlier in the day on May 27 and the House voted 234 to 194 later that night comfortably above the required 217 to add the amendment to similar legislation. Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican on the Senate panel to vote for the amendment while Senator Jim Webb of Virginia was the only Democrat to vote against it. Five Republicans in the House, breaking with their party's stated opposition, supported repeal. [. . .] The drama is far from over; however, some Republicans have vowed to filibuster on the entire defense spending bill if it includes the repeal provision when it comes up on the Senate floor in June and the White House issued a statement deploring some of the specific appropriations for military hardware in the House passed bill generally pushed by Congress members whose districts financially benefit from them. The statement warned that the Pentagon has indicated that it doesn't need nor want some of those military products and the president might veto the entire measure if those appropriations remain. Meanwhile Defense Secretary [Robert] Gates confirmed in a video message to the troops that the ban remains enforced and Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the pro-repeal Servicemembers Legal Defense Network cautioned that, "It is important for all lesbian and gay active duty service members including the reserves and the National Guard to know they are still at risk. They must continue to serve in silence under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law that remains on the books." While most LGBT advocacy groups applauded the progress made on repeal this week, not everyone was celebrating. Kip Williams, co-chair of the new grassroots queer rights group GetEQUAL was among the non-celebrants: "The sad fact remains that this vote in Congress won't stop the firings of lesbian and gay service members," he said in a media statement. "We keep asking the question 'When will the military discharges end?' -- and have not yet received an answer from the legislative and executive branches. It is the president's moral responsibility to issue an executive order banning the firings under Don't Ask, Don't Tell until the process can play itself out. LGBT Americans, especially those serving our country admirably in uniform, need their 'fierce advocate' now." Lt Dan Choi and Capt Jim Pietrangelo -- each twice arrested for handcuffing themselves to the White House gates to protest Don't Ask Don't Tell -- announced that they've begun a hunger strike because the actions this week don't end the anti-les-bi-gay policy fast enough. Choi, a West Point graduate, fluent Arabic linguist and Iraq War veteran outlined their three demands to Newsweek magazine. "Stop firing people," he said. "Stop the study that insults everything America is by considering the question of whether or not discrimination is America. And replace the current military discriminatory policy with comprehensive non-discrimination policies."
Monday, Marcia noted, "Again, I support Dan Choi. I like him. He's a real leader. But I wish he wasn't on the hunger strike. I just don't see this ending well. I hope I am wrong." This community supported the hunger strike staged by CODEPINK in the summer of 2006. But some of us took it seriously. Others, who swore they'd stay on it until the Iraq War was over didn't. (I am not referring to Diane Wilson or Cindy Sheehan who took the hunger strike very seriously.) Hunger strikes have a long political history but when that one ended, Ava and I made it clear that we would never endorse a hunger strike again and that we were surprised and caught off guard by that one. (The US has enough eating disorders without further equating strength with starvation through political action.) We're noting Dan's hunger strike now. What does that mean?
Jessic Green (Pink News) reports it has thankfully ended and that he and James Pietrangelo "abandoned the protest yesterday evening after supporters voiced fears for their health. Unfortunately, Dan has "hinted" it may come up again. It is a political action but we won't support it. I'm sorry I've spoken to too many groups over the years about body issues and eating disorders. It used to just be young girls and young women. Then it became more and more boys and young men. Some of the males -- not all - are gay. I just cannot personally support a hunger strike again. We'll continue to note Dan, he's a wonderful leader but this is a longterm issue (eating disorders) that many people struggle with and I am very uncomfortable sending any sort of message that we show strength or garner attention by starving ourselves. That's me. Others can do what they want, especially if they're adults. (But I am very glad Dan and Jim are off their hunger strike and think it would be great if they would stay off but they're going to do what they think is best and more power to them on that.) And to be very clear (because as usual Lez Get Real is yet again attacking Dan -- we're not linking to that site ever again), I am sure the strike was powerful and sparked many thoughts, I just personally do not support hunger strikes (for reasons outlined above). Overturning Don't Ask, Don't Tell will require a variety of actions and each person should pursue the ones they can tolerate (go beyond comfort zone). Rev. Irene Monroe has long covered issues of equality and she breaks down the basics on where things really stand for San Fransico Bay Times:
But at the end of the day of all this historic voting, last week, the plight of our LGBTQ service members remained unchanged.
Investigations and discharges for being an openly LGBTQ service member will continue on as usual. Why? Because the Pentagon has not completed its study, reviewing how to maintain the military's "unit cohesion" while integrating LGBTQ service members.
December 1 is the day the country will know the results of the Pentagon study. We will also know if the welcoming mat will truly begin to unfold for our LGBTQ service members.

That's the reality. For fantasy, see this ridiculous editorial in the Vacaville Reporter. Nothing is "virtually assure[d]." Nothing except a year long study will take place. A study? Has anyone ever done a study? You start out with one set of beliefs, that doesn't mean you end with them. The study is supposed to find out what the military rank and file feel about the issue and about how to best implement a change. The study could very well argue that the best way to implement a change has yet to arrive and that the policy (discrimination) should continue. USA Today offers a much more reality-based editorial here. Sean Kennedy (New York Magazine) notes that the bill doesn't include an anti-discrimination measure (would it be covered by Bill Clinton's executive order -- possibly unless a future president issues an executive order nullifying Clinton's). Today Ryan Grim (Huffington Post) outlines some of the craven deal making that led to the nothing yet to brag about moves by Dems and informs that one-time KKK cover boy Senator Robert Byrd insisted that there be sixty days after the review is released before any repeal can take place. So in other words, you can attempt to legally buy a gun and submit to a background check quicker than Byrd would have people come out. You can get your hands on a gun quicker than you can be open about who you are? Some old men in the Congress really need to retire and Robert Byrd is one of them. In fact, maybe we need to pass amendments wherein death in office might result in state's seeking compensation from the Congress member's estate for the costs of special elections?
Adm Mike Mullen is the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and he spoke at Fort Bragg yesterday. Martha Quillin (Raleigh News & Observer via Miami Herald) reports, "Openly gay recruits will likely be admitted into the military, and the services will adjust to their presence, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a group of soldiers at Fort Bragg on Wednesday." The military's Sgt 1st Class Michael J. Carden quotes Mullen stating, "The law needs to change. Fundamentally, it's an issue of our values. It's very critical for us as an institution, and I'm hard-pressed not to support policy and a law that forces individuals to come in and lie everyday." At Iraq Veterans Against the War, Wes Davey offers a look back at the policy and he's incorrect when he writes of Bill Clinton, "Members of Congress from both sides of the political aisle did everything but pour boiling oil over him, and in the end he settled for a compromise that did absolutely nothing for gays and lesbians serving in the military." If it did nothing, Bill's actions wouldn't have outraged anyone. The "Don't Ask" aspect was never seriously implemented (and court cases should have resulted from that) by the military. But to say it did nothing is to rewrite history. George H.W. Bush was against gays serving in the military and so was Ronald Reagan (decorating his house and dining with him or comforting them over the loss of longterm partner were apparently different for Reagan) and you can go back further on that. But the policy was that the witch hunts were taking place. Don't Ask, Don't Tell revolved around the premise that your sexuality was your business.
Today we can rightly see it didn't go far enough (something Bill himself admitted and listed as a regret in his final presidential interview with Rolling Stone). But with the climate at that time, this was a huge step. It went from "You're sick and disgusting!" to "You have no right to stick your nose into my sexuality." When the policy is repealed (which may or may not be in December), it'll be a futher step forward. But it's wrong to say that it did nothing ("absolutely nothing"). It also helped establish new boundaries (ones of respect) for a national dialogue that's been taking place since 1993 on this issue. Bill took a hit on it, he didn't walk away from it. He pushed it as far as he could at that time. I personally wish he would have brought back it up but I'm also aware that gas bags like Michael Tomasky were already sharpening their knives on gay rights and that the balance in Congress was shifting away from Democrats (whom Wes Davey rightly notes did not all agree that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly). And to clarify, Michael Tomasky (and Toad Gitlin and other left, White, male, presumably straight gas bags) led an attack on LGBT rights (and on feminism and Latinos and all subgroupings except African-Americans -- they were too scared to attack the Civil Rights Movement but not to say it's work was "done") following the Don't Ask, Don't Tell passage. That's not noted in any of the histories. These screaming mimis hissing "identity politics" and attacking those attempting to work towards equality had quite the platform and very few people confronted them directly (Ellen Willis, as always, didn't run scared from the crazies and did reject their nonsense). History is the tale of progression. Before 1993 (immediately before), the military's policy was that any gay male or lesbian wasn't fit to serve. Don't Ask, Don't Tell was a step away from that. And the attacks on this step did not come solely from the right-wing, centrists and supposed leftists attacked the policy as going too far, as distracting from 'real issues' and much more. That's the real history and it goes beyond what Congress did and what Bill did and what a few others did. This was a national dialogue and there were many, many players. (And the Tomaskys big fears were that the Democratic Party -- by embracing equality -- was running off White male voters and would never win an election that way.)
How does this relate to Iraq? Well the LGBT community is persecuted. You have LGBTs in the US military and they are Iraq War veterans. So you can justify it that way if you need a reason for why it's in the Iraq snapshot and in it at such length. But this is a really important issue (and I'm glad Wes Davey and IVAW weighed in -- I've only picked apart one sentence of Davey's and that just because I do not care for the revisionary history that's set in on that time period and is now being taught to other people -- such as Davey -- as fact) and there are a lot of people (including Tomasky) who are starting to whisper that Democrats need to move away from it now as election season creeps up on the country. So we'll probably go into this issue in this much length many more times this year.

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