civil rights

DADT: Living the lie

If you’re looking for an example of how a handful of narrow-minded people can hijack an issue and keep us from moving forward as a nation, you need look no further than Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Over the weekend, General David Petraeus became the latest member of the current and former military leadership to state publicly that gays in the military is not the end of the world, and perhaps DADT is outdated. When asked whether he thought the average soldier cared whether their comrades are gay, Petraeus responded:

We have experienced certainly in the CIA and the FBI — I know, I served, in fact, in combat with individuals who were gay and who were lesbian in combat situations. Frankly, you know, over time you said, hey, how’s this guy shooting or how is her analysis or what have you?

Imagine that. Not caring about someone’s sexual orientation but rather looking at their professional capabilities.

Apparently the conservative leaders on Capitol Hill are obsessed with the sex life of someone who happens to be gay, but the people in the military are too busy fighting wars to care about anything other than the qualifications of their fellow soldiers. Indeed, the American people — families and friends of those in uniform — overwhelmingly favor letting gays serve openly in the military, by 75% according to a poll done just a few weeks ago.

Because the truth is, it’s 2010 in America, and I don’t think there’s anyone in this country who can honestly say they don’t have a family member, a friend, a colleague, or a neighbor who is gay. As far as we still have to go to obtain full civil rights for the lgbt community, we have come very far indeed. My partner is welcomed with open arms by my family —  and not just my immediate family, but cousins, aunts and uncles.  When I talk with a co-worker about what I did over the weekend, there’s no need for me to be secretive about who I live with or to be careful to say “I worked on the house” rather than “We worked on the house.”

I have a picture of Unnamed Partner in my office.  When I started teaching in public school, I heard stories of gay teachers who would keep a phony portrait on their desk — complete with opposite-sex spouse, and a child or two. Better to have a fake family than to risk being “outed.”  By the time I left teaching, the idea of that kind of life — lying daily about who you are — seemed ridiculous and sad.  My fellow teachers knew I was gay, and many had met Unnamed Partner. Even students have good gaydar by 8th grade, and while I didn’t share too many details of my life (which is generally a good practice for any teacher) I certainly never lied about myself. I’m sure some knew. And they didn’t care. They cared more whether I was a good teacher — clear and fair in my instruction and rules.

So the idea that we are still asking our soldiers to live this kind of double-life is unbelievable to me. Can you imagine putting your life on the line fighting for “freedom” and being denied the most basic freedom  — that of honesty?

I’m disappointed that President Obama is not taking a stronger leadership role in repealing DADT. At this point, it’s clear that the military leadership and the American people want this policy thrown out — the only people fighting it are a small segment of society, apparently mostly made up of conservative Republican politicians. And even that faction is more concerned with playing politics than with looking honestly at the issue — how can Sen. John McCain look at himself in the mirror when he has been so transparently dishonest in his personal convictions? He clearly has no interest in anything other than being on the national stage — merits of individual issues be damned.

At this point, only Congress can repeal DADT. At this point, Democrats have a majority in both Houses of Congress. At this point, President Obama is the leader of the Democratic Party.  We voted for change, sir. Be the agent of that change.

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The Tax Man Cometh …

and he maketh me pay on those domestic partner benefits.  Yes, it’s tax time again, and once again the LGBT community is reminded that we are treated differently. Unequally, as a matter of fact. And with every step forward, it seems there’s an almost equal step back.

I am deeply grateful that Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley last year included same-sex domestic partner benefits in the state budget. I am equally grateful that the State legislature did not fight it. As a state employee, I have good and affordable health coverage that I can now share with Unnamed Partner, who — working part-time and attending school — does not otherwise have access to affordable health care. Just like my straight married co-workers, I can include her on my plan.

Except. To quote HRC:

When an employer provides health insurance for the spouse or dependents of an employee, federal tax law allows the value of the health insurance coverage to be excluded from the employee’s gross income. However, because the federal definition of spouse is limited by the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, non-dependent same-sex partners and spouses are treated differently for federal tax purposes.

On other words, my co-workers don’t have to pay taxes on the cost of their family’s health benefits. But I do.

I’m sure my legally married gay friends have a nightmare when it comes time to filing their taxes. I mean, think about it: first you do your federal taxes, and then you do your state taxes. But if your federal taxes state that you are single because they don’t recognize a same-sex marriage, then how do you do your states taxes? I would imagine there’s an entire industry of accountants who specialize in this area.

Meanwhile, a Maryland state delegate is introducing a bill to mandate that Maryland not recognize same-sex marriages that were performed in other states. I actually heard the sponsor, Del. Burns, say “They’re legalizing it in DC, and you know, that’s right next to Maryland.” Tired of being referred to as some pestilence that will take over the state, I wrote to my 3 state representatives to ask them to stand against this bill. Two never responded, and the one did, said this, with my highlighting of an especially outrageous sentence:

I look forward to the opinion from Attorney General Gansler on the issue of same-sex marriage as it relates to official recognition by the State of Maryland for those marriages performed in other states. Please know that in accordance with my faith, I have consistently stated that I could not vote to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Maryland. On the other hand, I have consistently voted in favor of legalizing specific benefits that were needed for same-sex couples, as I promised I would.

Head pounding on keyboard. I quickly contacted my pals over at the Americans United for Separation of Church and State and asked for advice on a cool-headed response. This is what I sent my Delegate:

Thank you for your prompt response to my message.  I appreciate your honesty, but feel compelled to respond that we do have a First Amendment guarantee of separation of church and state, and while I respect your right to hold your personal view you were elected to represent ALL your constituents.  There are faith traditions that currently perform same sex marriage ceremonies, and they want those marriages to have the same legal recognition as marriages performed for heterosexual couples.

For this reason I think that marriage equality IS a church-state separation issue and we must not allow our laws to be based on one belief.

I would respectfully ask that you reconsider your position, and would be happy to speak with you in person about this very important matter.  There are thousands of lesbians and gays who reside in Maryland, and we deserve full and equal representation by our elected officials.

I am still waiting on a response to this message ….

Mind-Reading Scanners?

You might think I pulled this from The Onion, but no — in reality, our security geniuses want to look at more than just your junky junk:

TSA funding airport mind-reading scanners

Amid the media furor over the attempted Christmas Day attacks and a renewed political focus on enhancing airport security, attention is turning to a technological advancement that will have civil rights activists — or, for that matter, anyone with a secret — seriously worried: Mind-reading machines.

“As far-fetched as that sounds, systems that aim to get inside an evildoer’s head are among the proposals floated by security experts thinking beyond the X-ray machines and metal detectors used on millions of passengers and bags each year,” AP’s Michael Tarm reports.

Read the rest of the story here.

Detainee musical chairs continues in the Obama Administration

This is turning into a depressing week for peace-lovin’, justice seekin’ Americans. After electing a President who said he’d bring change to America, that he’d restore our place in the world, Barack Obama has turned out to be just like all the other politicians who led in the polls. It’s not that I feel let down by him — I never believed he would do the things he promised during the primaries. So I pretty much expected he would go along with the military-industrial complex that is our federal government now, and continue the bloodshed and carnage by sending more troops to Afghanistan.

But I guess a part of me thought that as a Constitutional law professor, he might actually feel empowered enough to do something about the egregious acts that are being done to people under the guise of “defense against terrorism.” Sadly, I was wrong.

Immigration Detention System Lapses Detailed

Growing numbers of noncitizens, including legal immigrants, are held unnecessarily and transferred heedlessly in an expensive immigration detention system that denies many of them basic fairness, a bipartisan study group and a human rights organization concluded in reports released jointly on Wednesday ….

In its report, the human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, revealed government data showing 1.4 million detainee transfers from 1999 to 2008, most of them since 2006. The transfers are accelerating, the report found, with tens of thousands of longtime residents of cities like Philadelphia and Los Angeles being sent to remote immigration jails in Texas and Louisiana, far from legal counsel and the evidence that might help them win release.

“ICE is increasingly subjecting detainees to a chaotic game of musical chairs, and it’s a game with dire consequences,” said Alison Parker, deputy director in the United States for the human rights group, and author of its report. The data underlying the report was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, and analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University, which issued its own report.

The inspector general’s investigation found that the consequences of haphazard transfers include a loss of access to legal counsel and relevant evidence; additional time in detention; and “errors, delays and confusion for detainees, their families, legal representatives” and the immigration courts.

I mean, it was bad enough when this stuff was going on under George W. Bush, but then he was a moron who was letting Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest run the show. But Barack Obama promised us that he would lead this nation. And since being elected, he has continued to  say he would right these wrongs, yet:

In August, the Obama administration announced ambitious plans to overhaul immigration detention, a disjointed network that relies heavily on private prisons and county jails. But taken together, the three reports underscore the gap between the plans and the problems on the ground in a system that, according to the inspector general, is estimated to be detaining more than 442,000 people a year — more than double the number in 2003, ICE’s first year of operation.

I know this is not a situation that will change overnight — but this is inexcusable.  In February of 2008 I wrote that candidate Barack Obama would not have enough experience to lead and bring about the change of which he so eloquently spoke:

He will rely on advisers and confidantes, and where have we seen this before? For the past 7 years George W. Bush has overcome his “inexperience” by bringing in Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, etc., and what has happened?

I hate it that I’m right.

Who Exactly is This “We”?

Obama_ChangeI wonder  who that “we” is that Barack Obama referred to in his campaign speeches when he said “We are the change that we seek.” Apparently “we” doesn’t include gays and lesbians, although he sure sounded like he meant to include a better world for everyone back then. But then that’s the definition of “rhetoric,” isn’t it? Making persuasive speeches? Influencing an audience?

And you wondered why I mocked his talk of “hope” and “change” during the primaries.  Well, I just couldn’t take him seriously — his words rang hollow to me, and I know I was not alone. Obama the Candidate promised to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell because it is discrimination, pure and  simple. Obama the President has dragged his feet , saying now that it should be a legislative initiative. This, when the reality is that President Obama could get rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell with an Executive Order. It has been done before. This columnist says it best:

The American Debate: Obama needs just a bit of Truman’s courage

That’s right. President Truman did a little thing called desegregating the US Military by issuing an executive Order. In 1948!

When will Barack Obama tap his inner Truman and take the initiative to end the ignominious ban on gays serving openly in the military?

Actually, he needs to exhibit only a fraction of Harry Truman’s political courage. When FDR’s successor announced in 1948 that he intended to racially integrate the armed forces, Americans recoiled in horror. Gallup reported that only 13 percent of the people endorsed the notion of blacks and whites serving together. Yet Truman signed the executive order anyway; as he liked to say, “I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he’d taken a poll in Egypt.”

Truman stood tall even though the wind was in his face; Obama, by taking the lead on ending the gay ban, would actually have the wind at his back. National resistance to open service has melted during the 15 years since the enactment of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Gallup now reports that 69 percent of Americans support gays and straights serving together without the caveat of the closet – a six-point hike since 2004, fueled by big gains among conservatives and weekly churchgoers.

The American people elected you to bring change to this country, President Obama. We didn’t elected you (and yes, I voted for Obama), to sit in the White House and shrug your shoulders, saying “Gee I’d love to right this civil injustice thingy, but see, my hands are kinda tied on this one.”

But what’s really weak is this notion that Obama is too overwhelmed with weighty matters to deal at this time with the serving gays. To put that argument in perspective, let’s return to Truman.

Here are just some of the weighty matters that plagued the president during the first half of 1948: Soviet aggression in Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria; China, on the verge of falling to the communists; a severe domestic housing crisis; a Republican-led Congress that was fiercely resisting his pitch for national health insurance, a higher minimum wage, stronger pro-labor laws, and expanded education aid. Moreover, all the polls predicted that, when Truman stood for reelection in November, he would be toast.

Wrongs must be righted, President Obama. Be the change.

“Defense of Marriage”: Ur Doin it Wrong

I have a quick message to all the right-wing fundies who are worried that their marriages are in danger: It’s not the gays’ fault! Your marriage may indeed be on shaky ground, but don’t blame that on me! The national divorce rate has hovered around 40-50% in the past decade. It’s because of:

Poor communication, financial problems, a lack of commitment to the marriage, a dramatic change in priorities, infidelity. Also, there’s: failed expectations or unmet needs, addictions and substance abuse, physical, sexual or emotional abuse  lack of conflict resolution skills.  (This is according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. I guess they would know.)

There’s a video being pushed out by a group called the “National Organization for Marriage” that I find incredibly confusing. In it, they have actors posing as real people and saying things like: “There’s a storm gathering … The clouds are dark, the wind is strong … And I am afraid…” I suggest you watch the video Pam’s House Blend, because she also has a link to a video response.

But if they are for marriage, then what is their issue with gays and lesbians being able to marry? I mean, isn’t the more of us married, the better? You know, if you are really for marriage?

But of course their not for all marriage, just their idea of a religious marriage.  So here’s where I heave a heavy sigh and say to them: “the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees the separation of church and state so that one religion does not hold power over the rest of the citizens of this nation.” You know, like this:

pie chart(Image totally stolen from Pam’s House Blend. Please go there now!)

I’m Feeling Disagreeable: It’s Not “Just” About Marriage

obama-and-rick-warren1If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all, you know that I write about a lot of different topics. And the reason I do that is because I realize that there are many, many important issues in our world today that cry out for attention. And yes, sometimes one issue is more urgent than another. However, I am increasingly fed up with people who tell me to “be patient” with President-elect Barack Obama’s policy decisions on gay rights, because he’s “got a lot on his plate.” I’m fed up because he’s not just ignoring gay (and therefore civil) rights because he’s too busy with other issues. He’s giving a pulpit to people who hate by inviting Rick Warren to deliver the invocation. And here’s why that matters:

Brutal gang rape of lesbian investigated in San Francisco Bay area

A woman in the San Francisco Bay area was jumped by four men, taunted for being a lesbian, repeatedly raped and left naked outside an abandoned apartment building, authorities said Monday.

Detectives say the 28-year-old victim was attacked Dec. 13 after she got out of her car, which bore a rainbow gay pride sticker. The men, who ranged from their late teens to their 30s, made comments indicating they knew her sexual orientation, said Richmond police Lt. Mark Gagan.

This is not about marriage, or Proposition 8. This is about Barack Obama reinforcing that ugly part of our culture that says anyone who is “different” than us is a sinner and must be punished. This is the world of Rick Warren. This is the world of Barack Obama’s  choice to lead off the inaugural ceremony.

Why was this woman targeted?

Authorities are characterizing the attack as a hate crime but declined to reveal why they think the woman was singled out because of her sexual orientation. Gagan would say only that the victim lived openly with a female partner and had a rainbow flag sticker on her car.

Do you have any idea how frightening this is? Do not tell me to wait for Barack Obama to decide that he has the time to address my rights. We could be dead by then.

I cannot believe I am going to quote Richard Cohen here, but when he’s right, he’s right:

I can understand Obama’s desire to embrace constituencies that have rejected him. Evangelicals are in that category and Warren is an important evangelical leader with whom, Obama said, “we’re not going to agree on every single issue.” He went on to say, “We can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.” Sounds nice.

But what we do not “hold in common” is the dehumanization of homosexuals. What we do not hold in common is the belief that gays are perverts who have chosen their sexual orientation on some sort of whim. What we do not hold in common is the exaltation of ignorance that has led and will lead to discrimination and violence.

Finally, what we do not hold in common is the categorization of a civil rights issue — the rights of gays to be treated equally — as some sort of cranky cultural difference. For that we need moral leadership, which, on this occasion, Obama has failed to provide. For some people, that’s nothing to celebrate.

Please join me in signing a petition here to tell President-elect Obama that you are disappointed in his selection of Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation. Personally, I think I’ll just stay home on January 20.

Spying on Pacifists, Environmentalists and Nuns

From Truthout:

Takoma Park, Maryland – To friends in the protest movement, Lucy was an eager 20-something who attended their events and sent encouraging e-mails to support their causes.

Only one thing seemed strange.

“At one demonstration, I remember her showing up with a laptop computer and typing away,” said Mike Stark, who helped lead the anti-death-penalty march in Baltimore that day. “We all thought that was odd.”

Not really. The woman was an undercover Maryland State Police trooper who between 2005 and 2007 infiltrated more than two dozen rallies and meetings of nonviolent groups….

Maryland officials now concede that, based on information gathered by “Lucy” and others, state police wrongly listed at least 53 Americans as terrorists in a criminal intelligence database – and shared some information about them with half a dozen state and federal agencies, including the National Security Agency.

Among those labeled as terrorists: two Catholic nuns, a former Democratic congressional candidate, a lifelong pacifist and a registered lobbyist. One suspect’s file warned that she was “involved in puppet making and allows anarchists to utilize her property for meetings.”

Beware the puppet-makers ….

Read the rest here.

Gay Marriage and the Bible: On the cover of Newsweek?

Yes, it is. And this article is one of the most articulate, intelligent, and rational discussions of this topic that I have ever read:

Gay Marriage: Our Mutual Joy

Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.