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Archives – March, 2010

Constance Wins on Both Fronts

by Brian Leubitz

If you’ve been on Facebook lately, you’ve probably heard much of the news about Constance McMillen. She’s the out lesbian that wanted to take her girlfriend to her high school prom in Mississippi. The ACLU filed suit on her behalf and got something of a mixed bag victory from the federal court.

McMillen’s name made national headlines when she, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit against her school and the Itawamba County School District, asking them to reinstate prom for everyone, without discrimination. A federal judge in Mississippi ruled Tuesday that while he wouldn’t force the school to have a prom, which had originally been scheduled for April 2, he agreed that McMillen’s First Amendment rights had been violated.

That was good news, said her attorney, Christine Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender project. It set a precedent and helped broadcast an important statement, which was made stronger by virtue of where it came from, she said. (CNN)

First, let’s just say this. This is a win for LGBT rights.  The case will likely proceed through the court system, but it will be precedent for other schools to know that they cannot stop a student from bringing a same-sex date to a school event, and will allow students to live their life as they so choose. Legally, this is a great victory for our community.

But, you’ll notice the caveat there, the school was not forced to reinstate the prom.  So, the private prom will go ahead. And, being as that is a private association, the courts cannot force them to accept Constance and her girlfriend.  However, it seems the folks who are organizing the prom either got worn down by the bad publicity or weren’t all that concerned about it in the first place:

Itawamba County school board attorney Michele Floyd said Tuesday that 18-year-old Constance McMillen can escort her girlfriend to the dance Friday at the Fulton Country Club.

The private prom replaces one the school district canceled rather than let McMillen wear a tuxedo and bring her girlfriend, who is also a student at Itawamba Agricultural High School.(AP)

Congratulations to Constance. She is a role model for the entire LGBT community. Her commitment to fighting for her rights where they aren’t as popular should be a teachable moment for us all.  Thank you!

97 Comments March 31, 2010

Sheehan Apologizes for Lies

by Brian Leubitz

A while back, I mentioned retired general John Sheehan, who tried to pin a particularly gruesome incident in the recent Balkan conflicts on the Dutch military’s policy of letting gay and lesbian soldiers serve openly.  He even went so far as to say that a Dutch general had told him that the gays were definitely a problem. Trouble is, he made it all up.

After pretty much being called a liar by the entire Dutch government, he has now recanted his statement. He’s written a letter fessing up to his lies. He basically looks like a cat with the family pet canary in his mouth.

In it, Sheehan said he was “sorry” for remarks made at a Senate hearing earlier this month where he argued against plans by President Barack Obama to end a ban on allowing gays to serve openly in the US military.

“The case in point that I’m referring to is when the Dutch were required to defend Srebrenica against the Serbs,” he said at the time, referring to the Dutch UN peacekeeping force deployed to protect Bosnian Muslim civilians.

Sheehan claimed that Dutch leaders, including the former chief of staff of the Dutch army General Henk van den Breemen, had told him that the presence of gay soldiers had contributed to the fall of the enclave which led to the massacre of nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

“To be clear, the failure on the ground in Srebrenica was in no way the fault of the individual soldiers,” states Sheehan’s letter, dated Monday and addressed to the now retired Van den Breemen.

“I am sorry that my recent public recollection of those discussions of 15 years ago inaccurately reflected your thinking on some specific social issues in the military,” said the letter, a copy of which was given to AFP by the ministry. (AFP)

To many of these right-wingers, this is how you do it. You throw out the biggest lie you can think of, in this case that the gay soldiers caused a genocidal massacre in Bosnia, and see if anybody calls you on it.  If somebody does, you make this little amends and continue to try to make up other lies in other forums.  And if nobody calls you on it, great, then you get to have the big lie spread around virally. Soon, you’ll be able to quote some authoritative source as the lie swirls around in the media.

So it is important that we watch these right-wing anti-gay zealots, and fortunately there are some great groups that are doing this work.  Media Matters for America has done a lot of work to debunk the crazy statements of the far right, and has even combined some of the many myths surrounding Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell into one, easily readable document.  Check it out here. But we cannot rely on a single organization alone.  You might hear some of these lies floating around everyday conversation, and it is up to us to debunk this garbage.

The best antidote for the lies that the anti-gay leaders spread is simply more knowledge. We all must do our part to spread the truth about our community.

73 Comments March 30, 2010

Bigotry: Bringing Foreign Leaders Together Against the Other

by Brian Leubitz

Zimbabwe has big problems. Really big problems.  What was once the breadbasket of Africa is now struggling to feed itself.  Inflation has resulted in wheelbarrows full of cash being exchanged for a loaf of bread. And a political crisis between the longtime dictator, Robert Mugabe, and the opposition leader who actually won the election, Morgan Tsvangirai, nearly led to a civil war.

Yet when all seems hopeless for the common man, there’s always the scape goat.  And guess what? Like much of Africa, the scapegoats are our brothers and sisters.

Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, said Thursday that any thought of putting gay rights in the nation’s new constitution was “madness,” and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who often disputes almost everything Mr. Mugabe says, this time seemed to agree.Both men were appearing at a belated celebration of International Women’s Day in a suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. The pro-Mugabe state-run news media in Zimbabwe reported Friday that the president was scornful of the very idea of gay rights, which the 86-year-old president said would make the nation’s ancestors “turn in their graves.”

Mr. Tsvangirai’s response, according to the news media, was, “Why should a man seek to have a relationship with another man when women make up 52 percent of the population?” (New York Times)

From Mugabe, this is really nothing new. The man has absolutely no respect for the lives of his fellow human beings, why would he care about the rights of gays and lesbians? You kind of have to be willing to stop killing your political opponents before the topic of gay rights really becomes much of an issue. And while Mugabe has toned it down over the last few months, he has pretty much done whatever it takes to hold on to power over the last few years. Including murder.  So, why not throw in a little bigotry?

But from Tsvangirai? It is more disheartening.  He had been, and in many respects still is, the hope for a rebirth of Zimbabwe as a democratic nation that respects all human rights.  In fact, he was rumored to be one of the final nominees to be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize that ultimately went to President Obama.

And the Times puts it mildly.  These two leaders simply never agree. Mugabe abducts Tsvangirai’s vice minister candidate. Recriminations follow, and tensions are always at a constant simmer.  Neither wants the other there, and they are both constantly undermining each other.

Yet in the quest for bigotry, well that can bring even hated leaders together. History tells cautionary tales, of course. These tactics have produced such dramatic results in the past. One struggling artist was able to unite the fractured nation of Germany into a major power by blaming everything on the Jews. Heck, Hitler was really the master of this. He blamed everybody, and was able to conquer most of Europe.  Of course it is never sustainable. Eventually all the anger and the suscpicion turns inward, and destroys the society. A society simply can’t live with itself in a constant state of anger, fear, and recrimination. Something is bound to break.

That being said, it is a positive note that Tsvangirai’s staff felt the need to walk the statement back. His staff has since sent out several statements to the media putting big asterisks on the statement, but it is clear that even these human rights leaders don’t plan on being true leaders for all.

He added, “We believe people should have the latitude to decide whatever is best for them. But — and I underline the word ‘but’ — the position of people in this country is that the word ‘gay’ should not appear in the constitution.”

It is somewhat of a step forward from the absolute tyranny of Mugabe’s dictatorship, but far from a pleasant state of affairs.  While the situation for gays and lesbians in Zimbabwe is far better than those of neighboring Malawi or Uganda, where the government is consider capital punishment for homosexuality, there is still much work to be done. While our fight for marriage rights is extremely important, we must not forget our brothers and sisters who are in a worse situation.

88 Comments March 29, 2010

Students 1, Bigots 0

by Brian Leubitz

Hillsdale High's play poster
The poster for the Hillsdale High Production of Laramie Project. The play runs until this evening, and tickets can be bought online
Laramie Project

On Monday, I mentioned Hillsdale High School. The theater program there was performing the Matthew Shephard tribute play, the Laramie Project, and the hateful Westboro Church of Topeka, Kansas was supposed to show up.  You know these people, the ones who show up in front of soldier’s funerals saying that they were dying because America tolerates the LGBT community.  Even going so far as to say “Thank God for IEDs.”  They are truly a disgusting hate group, and no amount of religious cloaking should get them any sort of pass.

But a curious thing happened when the play opened.  The hate group was nowhere to be found. Instead, over 400 supporters of the play and the LGBT community showed up for what became a celebration.

The gathering Saturday evening was supposed to be a counterprotest to an out-of-state group’s planned picketing of the school’s weeklong production of the gay-themed play “The Laramie Project.” Instead it turned into a festive rally calling for tolerance and equality when members of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church from Kansas did not show up as scheduled before a performance of the play.

“It’s amazing,” Hillsdale Theater Director Allison Gamlen said, looking over the streetside crowd numbering at least 200 strong from throughout the Bay Area. “I have goose bumps. I’m extremely proud.”

Another 200 Hillsdale students and colleagues rallied inside the school for what was dubbed the “Lovefest.” They then quietly walked hand-in-hand outside and through the campus, with supporters on the sidewalks applauding.

“Hillsdale doesn’t approve of hate,” said senior Casey Anderson, 17, a stage crew member for the play, which is about the Wyoming town and the aftermath of the beating death of gay university student Matthew Shepard in 1998. (San Jose Mercury-News)

I was going to write another post about foreign bigotry, but that can always wait.  Sometimes you just need some good news.  And more often than not these days, it’s coming from the youth. Why is it that our high school students can be so much more mature than their parents and grandparents? To many young people, it isn’t even a question anymore. It is simply wrong to discriminate. It’s just natural and obvious what the right thing to do is.

The play’s run ends tonight, so if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, perhaps consider supporting Hillsdale High’s production. You can even buy tickets online right here.

48 Comments March 28, 2010

Bigotry by Any Means Necessary

by Brian Leubitz

Now that the end of DADT is just looking like a matter of timing, homophobia is coming out of the woodwork from top military brass. This is the latest on how they’re going to try to stigmatize gay and lesbian members of the military.

The Marine Corps’ top officer said he would not force straight Marines to share rooms with gay service members if Congress repeals the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law and allows gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces.

Gen. James T. Conway, the commandant of the Marine Corps, told the Web site in an interview published Friday that an “overwhelming” number of Marines would be opposed to bunking with someone of a different sexual orientation. As a result, he said, the Corps might have to ditch its double-bed rooms and offer single rooms to everyone. (Washington Post)

I get so sick of this, mostly because what these generals are saying is that somehow our soldiers are not only less professional than European militaries, but that they are also less professional than your average college freshman. Furthermore, in times of war, these Marines will be housed in barracks or tents in large groups. Are you going to segregate them there too? It’s simply a preposterous notion, and completely unfeasible.

And guess what, General Conway, there are straight soldiers sharing a room with gay soldiers right now. Yes, it’s true. There have been and will continue to be gay Marines, with or without DADT. It’s a useful fiction perhaps, but continuing to pretend that there aren’t any is laughable. And it simply reduces your own credibility.

But Conway has a reason to be pushing this:

Nathaniel Frank, a senior research fellow at the Palm Center at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said it was highly unlikely that Congress would permit separate rooms or other facilities based on sexual orientation if it votes to end the ban.

“If you have separate facilities, you end up breeding resentment,” Frank said. “I think [Conway] knows that, and I think he was shooting something across the bow to test the limits of how much opponents can do on this.”

This is exactly right. Conway and other “reasonable” generals are gently bringing up logistical issues, pretending that the average marine has very little maturity or professionalism, in an attempt to undermine, stigmatize, and isolate gay and lesbian soldiers. It simply is not acceptable, and his superiors should let him know as much.

53 Comments March 27, 2010

Beyond DADT

by Brian Leubitz

While the military, President Obama, and the Congress dither about eliminating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, there are other questions looming on the horizon for the military. It is only a matter of time at this point with public opinion polls showing 70% support for repeal. But beyond that, once DADT is eliminated, how will same-sex partners be treated?

If gay service members are allowed to serve openly, the military will face another tough question: Should gay partners be entitled to military benefits? …

Since the draft ended in 1973, spousal benefits have increasingly been used as an incentive to recruit and retain an effective force. Today, more than half of all troops sport a wedding ring. Benefits for married service members include college tuition for a spouse and the right of a spouse to be at a wounded service member’s bedside. Spouses also have access to military health care and commissaries worldwide, and married service members receive better housing and even extra pay when they go to war.

The ticket to qualifying for those benefits is a marriage certificate. Heterosexual couples have a choice whether to marry, but same-sex marriages are legal in only five states and Washington, D.C. Whether same-sex partnerships would be recognized by the military and what benefits might be afforded gay couples would become issues if the ban were lifted.(AP)

Of course, the “Family” Research Council and other right wing groups apparently think that the military is just totally incapable of dealing with these issues. And so rather than acting like adults and addressing the issues before us, and treating our troops equally, they argue that we just shouldn’t even mess with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Because, you know, troops who are lying about who they are do wonders for morale and unit cohesion.

And this is where DADT collides head-on with DOMA. Under DOMA, the federal government cannot recognize same-sex unions. So, the military, if DOMA is applied, would be unable to grant the same type of benefits. So, the net result is that we allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, and then tell them that their relationships just aren’t as important, to recruitment or retention, or to the general welfare of the specific soldier or the military in general.

Of course, if a facial challenge to DOMA was launched, which the Prop 8 trial is not, there are some serious questions about its constitutionality. In recent times there has never been a law that allowed states to so clearly ignore the “full faith and credit” clause of the constitution. Traditionally, the law has required contracts and other legal provisions to be honored in other states. Its what allows us to move states and not have to start our lives all over again. But for our community, that is not the case.

President Obama has pledged to repeal both DOMA and DADT. He needs to put some of his newly recovered political capital on the line for a bit of good ol’ fashioned constitutional justice.

56 Comments March 26, 2010

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