Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Harass

Currently President Obama is attempting to address various issues that have concerned the LGBT community for quite some time. The climate of this country is going in the direction that most have fought long and hard for in regard to LGBT issues and concerns. Presently we see states slowly addressing and passing legislation to include marriage equality for all its citizens and not just those of opposite sex. One of quite a few issues that is on the table is the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Harass armed forces regulation. In 1993, what was deemed as a compromise was instituted in the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Harass regulation.

The armed forces will no longer ask recruits about their sexual activity and/or orientation, will not investigate any serviceman or servicewoman's sexual activity and/or orientation without solid evidence (thus preventing witch-hunts), and self-identified homosexual servicemen and women agree that they will not engage in homosexual sex acts, or do anything that announces that they are a homosexual, i.e. public statements or participate in a same-sex marriage openly.

Various forms of this regulation have been a part of the armed forces regulations since 1778. The armed forces has never had an appetite for gay and lesbian individuals serving next to them. However, as we all know, there have always been gay and lesbian individuals in the armed forces who served honorably in defending this country. Just recently we have seen a lot of movement in support of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Seventy-Seven members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama asking him to repeal this military regulation as soon as possible. It should be noted that since January 20, 2009 there have been more than 250 gay and lesbian service members discharged and more than 12,500 since this regulation was implemented in 1993. Clearly some of the best and brightest soldiers who identified as gay or lesbian have been discharged because of this regulation.

Many in society have inherently thought that to be gay or lesbian was to be deficient and to have someone of such a deficiency go to war to defend this country is in opposition to what we feel military individuals should be about. This policy is not in the best interest of this country at all for it espouses that “the closet” is a good thing. We are asking people to deny who they are and hide their lives from everyone around them or pretend to be someone they are not. When a gay or lesbian person goes to enlist, he or she is not looking at the recruiter ringing their hands saying how wonderful it will be to be with all these members of the same sex in closed quarters. They are enlisting for the same reason that most other citizens are and that is to defend and serve this country. It is about service not sex. Our lives as human beings consist of more than just our sexual acts with others. It does us all a disservice to refer to my attraction to another man as a sexual orientation when in fact it is an emotional orientation.

With Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell we are feeding into the stereotypes and uneducated fears that some service men and women have about a portion of the population they know nothing about. President Truman was dealing with a similar issue (desegregation) when it came to the armed forces. He stated that he was going to repeal the regulation that separated the armed forces because of ethnicity. Several high ranking military men stated that if he went ahead with his promise they would resign. He called their bluff and not one resignation was presented.

During the campaign of President Clinton’s first term he was a breath of fresh air for the LGBT community and made various promises as politicians do when seeking election. One of the key issues to the LGBT community was the ability to discharge a man or woman from the armed services for being labeled or thought to be homosexual. In my research I found that this goes back as far as the American Revolution. The first person to receive a “blue discharge” happened in 1778. You could be discharged or brought up on criminal charges if you it was discovered that you were homosexual. As the times changed so did the rules about military discharge due to homosexuality. The discharge while still enforced was changed in 1947 to be either a general discharge or an undesirable discharge.

As the years progressed the degree of official and unofficial attempts to separate gay people from the armed forces appeared to be directly related to the personnel needs of the armed forces. Therefore, in times of active war gays men and women were basically allowed to serve because we were “needed”. It has become the policy of the military to simply look the other way in an effort to retain anyone suspected or accused of being a homosexual if the person could successfully claim that their behavior was only a singular occurrence. They called this the "queen for a day" rule. How insulting is that???

In 1981, the military issued a new regulation:

Homosexuality is incompatible with military service. The presence in the military environment of persons who engage in homosexual conduct or who, by their statements, demonstrate a propensity to engage in homosexual conduct, seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission. The presence of such members adversely affects the ability of the armed forces to maintain discipline, good order, and morale; to foster mutual trust and confidence among service members; to ensure the integrity of the system of rank and command; to facilitate assignment and worldwide deployment of service members who frequently must live and work in close conditions affording minimal privacy; to recruit and retain members of the armed forces; to maintain the public acceptability of military service; and to prevent breaches of security.

The LGBT community wanted this regulation repealed/removed from the books allowing gay and bisexual men and women to serve without the threat of discharge. A promise was made by then candidate Clinton to repeal this regulation. However, he came upon staunch opposition from high ranking military officers as well as those in Congress when he attempted to live up to his promise. Therefore, in 1993 what some would consider as a compromise (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Harass) was established and is still enforced today.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

There is Pride in Pride Parade

Recently Mr. Cord Jefferson wrote an article on entitled "Where's the Pride in Pride Parades" ( While I agree with everyone's right to have an informed opinion I totally disagree with that of Mr. Jefferson. Below is my response forwarded to him personally.

Mr. Jefferson:

I am a little perplexed by your comparison with the civil rights movement and the gay pride parades that take place in numerous cities in this country. I think that there in lies the problem because you are comparing the march for freedom, dignity and equality that took place more than 50 years ago with an outward celebration of self expression. Much has happened in our culture where men and women do not dress as they did when my parents were in their early adult years. Yes, Dr. King did dress in a suit and tie; however, that was the dress of the time. You would be very hard pressed to see anyone in 2009 dressed in business attire if they were not attending work or Sunday morning church service. Actually, these days finding men in suits attending church on Sunday is quite rare. Therefore, your comparison is unfair and uneven. I would ask you to take a look at the footage from a recent demonstration that took place in the south regarding the Jena 6. How many of those individuals did you see in suits and ties in the blazing heat? Because they were not dressed as such was their demonstration any less effective? I would tend to think not. If you want to compare apples to apples I would ask you to look at footage from the Proposition 8 demonstrations that took place around the country. Were any of these men or women dressed in what would be defined as inappropriate?

The pride parades are celebrations of who we are as LGBT individuals…all of who we are. We do not all dress in costumes and parade around in our every day lives as such, however, it is a part of our community and we make no apologies for that. However, we are also everyday citizens as well and for you to simply focus on the outlandish dress that appears in the parade is narrowly focused. If you took the time to attend a pride parade you would see that it encompasses many aspects of the LGBT community. I have marched with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for the past five years here in Chicago. There are a multitude of participants that are not as you described. However, you and various news agencies seem to only focus on those individuals that are deemed out of the norm. Let us be perfectly clear when we discuss the LGBT community and the reporting of it. There is some titillation that takes place when our stories are carried by the mainstream press. It allows the public to confirm what they have always thought about the LGBT community (weird, abnormal, highly sexual, etc.) by those that do not know us or want to get to know us as human beings. If you have never attended a pride parade and only watched and/or read about the coverage by the press you would think that it was just a parade in drag. However, that is far from what takes place. It encompasses community activism, political awareness, culture, etc. In every community there are those that are defined as extremes and to only focus on that is unfair and lacks of integrity journalism.

You site a comment that you had with a Mr. Fowlkes in which he noted that many blacks in the LGBT community intentionally avoid pride parades because of the infamous reputation they’ve gotten over the years. I find that comment interesting and while somewhat true what he failed to also state is that many avoid it because they are dealing with very personal closeted issues. “How would I be perceived if someone from my neighborhood or job saw me out here?” However, this is not isolated to the communities of color. Many are dealing with the possibility of being judged as guilty by association. Just like the mainstream society many of us as black men and women in the LGBT community feel no connection with our white counterparts because racism is alive and well in the LGBT community. Many of us feel no connection to the white community at all whether we are LGBT or not.

In closing, I would have to say that there will always be people that will only view LGBT men and women as you describe for bigots do not try to become informed. There are many that go live by a term my pastor would fondly say about narrowly focused individuals “My mind is made up do not confuse me with the facts.” I only ask you to know the facts.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Marriage Equality

Marriage equality is a debate that we continue to have in this country. However as of last week I have had the pleasure to witness the sixth state legalize marriage between two people of the same sex. Currently, in the United States same-sex couples can legally marry in Massachusetts, Maine (beginning mid-September 2009) Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont (beginning September 1, 2009), and New Hampshire. On May 6th the NH legislature passed legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry. However, it had to be ratified with the signature of the governor which took place on June 4th. The fight for marriage state by state is not one of symbolism it is about true equality. Many have tried to make this matter about religion and while I respect everyone's right to believe what they choose those beliefs should not be used to defend unequal governmental policies.

As this debate has continued many politicians, even President Obama, have noted that they believe that the rights of same-sex couples should be equal to that of opposite-sex couples. However, our unions should not be called marriage. They should be defined as civil unions. That statement disturbs me for it is truly a case of lack of knowledge and fear. I have wondered what is the fear or apprehension with defining same-sex unions as marriage also. To say that it devalues, as some have stated, the marriage of opposite sex couples is simply saying that what you have with your spouse is of more value than what two men or two women could ever have together. That statements reeks of all kinds of biases and bigotry for you can't make a blanket statement to determine the worth of the commitment between two people. To say that same-sex unions that have the same rights as married couple should be legally called civil unions we are espousing a separate but equal policy.

Marriage is done for reasons of love and commitment. But marriage is also a legal status, which comes with rights and responsibilities. Marriage establishes a legal kinship between you and your spouse. It is a relationship that is recognized across cultures, countries and religions. Civil unions do not afford the kinship and the same rights that marriage does for the opposite sex couples in that same state. Also, civil unions only afford certain rights to same-sex couples depending on that particular state. Currently there are approximately 1,138 rights (i.e. federal taxes --estate, social security benefits, veteran/military benefits, pensions, etc) that married couples get that those in civil unions and domestic partnerships are not.

In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in an effort to stipulate that for all federal purposes "marriage" is a union between one man and one woman. Because of that legislation, all laws pertaining to married couples apply exclusively to opposite sex couples. Therefore, in the six states mentioned above they are only afforded state rights/benefits. It should also be noted that no other states has to acknowledge the marriage of same-sex couples in their state. Currently, only one state, New York, and one recognizes marriages by same-sex couples legally entered into in another jurisdiction. While it is great that the six states have legalized same-sex marriages they do not have the ability to grant its citizens the federal rights and benefits because of the DOMA law on the federal level.

This debate will go on and it is my hope that we continue to debate it and legalize marriage for all in every state of the union. Marriage is truly about commitment to each other to love and honor your partner regardless of the fact that they same-sex or opposite-sex the goal and reasoning is the same.