Monthly Archives: June 2009

US Government One Step Closer to Firing Lt. Dan Choi

Following a very long hearing, an army discharge board has recommended firing 1Lt. Dan Choi today in Syracuse, New York. The one and only reason for this decision is that Lt. Choi is gay.

dan-choi-fresno

At 2:50pm, while the board was still deliberating, Lt. Choi shared the following via KnightsOut.org:

Still awaiting their verdict… I’ve received support text messages from around the world, and most importantly the members of my unit. My statement talked about Army values of integrity and sending a message from Knights Out to all the deployed soldiers or anyone who feels isolated, that indeed NO soldier stands alone. (Outside the hearing room is a poster with that exact message.) I also said I am gay. I refused to lie, and told them I refuse to stay silent, particularly since the soldiers in my unit respect honesty above personal gain. I recited the Iraqi poem of historic fame and of course translated it myself. In Arabic English and transliterated English. I presented the total 260,000 support letters and signatures to include statements by generals, admirals, and congressmen. I refuse to go quietly, and explained this as my duty.

Some time later, the post was updated with this:

About three hours of deliberation and no verdict yet. Every witness on both sides said I was an asset to the unit and the only evidence were statements of homosexuality . My statement included Arabic poem, I am gay, refuse to lie, my duty to ensure the message to every gay soldier that they are not alone.

Tonight at 6:49PM, Knights Out chair Becky Kanis released an email to Knights Out members confirming that the recommendation is official. According to Syracuse.com, this is not quite a final decision:

The recommendation is not a final decision. Another recommendation will be made by the Commander of the First Army, a regional branch of the army. The chief of the National Guard Bureau has the final decision.

It should be noted that board recommendations are rarely overruled, and such an action is unprecedented in the case of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

How Not to Show the President You Mean Business

Very nice words from President Obama this afternoon at the White House reception. Very nice words. There’s just one problem: Words alone don’t get the job done.

And so on.

I could go on about the president’s speech, but instead I’d like to talk for a little bit about the crowd in the White House today. They were mind-blowingly non-critical. I think the technical term is “star-fucker”. Over and over they literally whooped and hollered like they were at a basketball game.

The president gave a light applause speech at best. But because they got invited to the Big House, these supposed LGBT activists were more than supportive, they were in President Obama’s hip pocket before he even got started, and no matter what he said. He could have introduced new pink triangles and they would have thanked him for the breathable cotton.

I was embarrassed by the display. Embarrassed. After five minutes or so I crossed over into being flat out ashamed of them. This is not what the LGBT community counts on these people for. Real people’s lives are affected by President Obama’s empty rhetoric and non-timeline for change. To judge by the audience’s reaction, you’d think everything was sunshine and roses for the community. You’d never guess that people are getting deported, fired, abused by police, and having their rights stripped away.

My only hope, our only hope is that President Obama and his administration look past today’s crowd in the White House and see the discontent in the community at large. Otherwise, next time he hears we’re upset about something he’ll just roll his eyes, tell the chef to order some lamb chops, and go back to ignoring us.

(One other thing: That audience was painfully white and male. Come on, The Gays. We’re more diverse than that.)

Lt. Col. Fehrenbach and 1Lt. Choi in the Spotlight

This will be a busy couple of days for Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. 1Lt. Dan Choi appeared briefly on CNN this morning to talk about the recent Gay Pride Parade in San Fransisco and the ongoing battle with President Obama over the ban.

Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, who is scheduled to be fired from the Air Force later this year for being one of The Homosexuals, will be accompanying the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network to the hastily thrown together White House cocktail party to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Stars and Stripes reports that Lt. Col. Fehrenbach will be in uniform tonight and hopes to appeal to President Obama directly.

Then tomorrow, Lt. Choi will appear before his discharge board. There are two things you can do to help Lt. Choi.

First, you can send a letter to the discharge board attesting to his character. According to Lt. Choi, “Our case (and future appeals if I do get fired) requires testimony from people who can attest to my character/abilities. ANYONE who believes I should be retained (for whatever reason) or feels the army is better off keeping me can write a statement. It will be included in the official archive for my future cases as well.”

A sample letter is provided at Lt. Choi’s site, but you can write anything you want. Action is needed on this one NOW. Scanned copies of the signed letter need to be emailed to Lt. Choi TODAY.

Second, you can pray for Lt. Choi. The odds are stacked against him. There are no known cases of a discharge board retaining a DADT-accused soldier, so unless President Obama issues an executive order today (don’t hold your breath) or the board breaks entirely with precedent, Choi will be out of a job by this time tomorrow.

Lt. Choi has begun to emerge as a powerful new voice for the LGBT community. Both he and Lt. Col. Fehrenbach have chosen to be open about their struggle for equality and justice, and they’re both about to take one on the chin for the rest of us. I invite you to remember their current sacrifices.

Texas Gay Bar Raid on Stonewall 40th Anniversary Brings Allegations of Police Misconduct

Note: This is a very long post. Please take the time to read it in its entirety. Kudos to blogger David Mailloux for being on top of this story all day.

Early this morning, 40 years (nearly to the minute) after the raid that sparked the Stonewall Riots, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission raided the recently opened Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth. By the time the Fort Worth police were done eighteen people were arrested, one man was hospitalized with a cracked skull, and witnesses were left in stunned disbelief.

According to the police report released to the Star-Telegraph:

While walking through the Rainbow Lounge, an “extremely intoxicated patron made sexually explicit movements toward the police supervisor,” the statement said. This individual was arrested for public intoxication.

Another intoxicated individual also made sexually explicit movements toward another officer, and he was arrested for public intoxication, the statement said. A third individual inside the lounge assaulted a TABC agent by grabbing the agent’s groin, according to the statement. He was escorted outside and arrested for public intoxication. He was released to paramedics because of his extreme intoxication as he was repeatedly vomiting, police reported.

While dealing with this suspect, another officer requested assistance from inside the club with an intoxicated patron who was resisting arrest. This person was placed on the ground to control and apprehend him, police reported.

Going just by the police account it doesn’t sound terribly unreasonable, though as Rainbow Lounge General Manager General manager Randy Norman said, “Officers just don’t come in armed with zip ties and a paddy wagon for a routine check of a bar.”

But let’s look at some witness accounts given to Dallas Voice reporters Tammye Nash, Arnold Wayne Jones, or left in the Instant Tea (the Dallas Voice’s official blog) comments section. I’ve attempted to place them in chronological order to tell the story.

(From commenter “A”) I don’t know what went down once the police got inside, I was lucky that I was leaving at the exact moment that the first agent was walking in the door, but they already had the outside door person up against the wall in cuffs, and the building surrounded with cars. It was like a scene in a movie. What century is Fort Worth living in? Being from Fort Worth, Im sad to say, that I’m not surprised that they raided the bar. I’m so glad that I don’t live in that city anymore.

Just talked to a girl named Alison. When it first started she went up to a cop and said thank you for coming out to keep us safe. This is a rough neighborhood. He said that’s not why we are here. She asked why they were there and he said a disgruntled employee had said that the bar was overserving people. She told him she had been drinking but that she had a designated driver. He told her that she was fine. She said they only arrested men and seemed to be targeting effeminate men.

(Did I mention that the Rainbow Lounge has only been open a week, and presumably wouldn’t have had time to get a disgruntled employee?)

(From Rainbow Lounge dancer “Shane” in the comments section) I was one of the dance entertainers last night at Rainbow Lounge. I was dancing on a box in the VIP lounge and was looking right at the first guy that was arrested. The male patron was standing at the bar doing nothing but having a having a drink and a fun time (like people do in bars) when an officer entered that section of the club and made a beeline straight towards him. The officer forcefully spun the man around, shoved him against the bar and placed plastic restraints on his wrists. The officer then marched the man out the club. The guy was stunned and obviously really scared.

(A witness identified as Kayla Lane, a Ph.D. student at UC-Santa Cruz) I was in the VIP section when police officers started coming up there. The first arrest (that we saw) was right in front of me in that section.

They asked the guy if he had been drinking, and he said some, and they snidely replied, “Well, we’ll see how much!” and plastic handcuffed him as they read him his rights The guy was doing NOTHIG wrong. It was utterly repugnant.

Once I saw this happen, I decided to try and speak with one of the police officers themselves, to go straight to the source and get their side. My sister Kelly and I simply started asking what they were doing here, stating how suspicious it seemed on this date and in this specific club, etc. This was a “State Policeman,” whose name I forgot, who tried to explain their actions by referring to “anonymous tips” and “disgruntled ex-bartenders.” We pointed out the place was open a week, so the disgruntled ex-bartender source seemed a bit unlikely! He wouldn’t really answer my questions. although he did try to grab my hand and flirt with me (which was completely uninvited).

The not awesome thing was the paddy wagon of homophobic police that showed up … looking for trouble. My group and I were sitting on the back patio at a picnic table. Nobody was being wild out there. [The police] came through with flashlights, being loud asking what was going on out here, then asked why everyone was all the sudden being quiet. When one group started up their conversations again, they took one guy away. I left shortly after and as I walked through the front bar there were numerous cops with plastic handcuffs all ready to go. I [left] the bar and they [had] a big van in the parking lot and numerous cars on the street. And just so you know, it wasn’t fire hazard crowded or seedy wild in there. … The worst part is [friends later told me] that [the police] had numerous people face down on the ground outside. I just moved to Fort Worth from Dallas, so this is such a shock to me. I know Dallas would not put up with this. … I am still so shocked it is 2009 and this just happened.

Just got an e-mail from “Robert H” who said he was at the Rainbow Longe last night when the police arrived with “a paddy wagon … looking for touble.”

He said he and his friends were sitting on the patio and “nobody was being wild out there” when the police “came through with flashlights being loud” and “took one guy away.”

He said he left shortly thereafter and at the front door “numerous cops were there with plastic handcuffs all ready to go” and that “it wasn’t fire hazard crowded or seedy wild” in the bar.

He said friends called him later and that they were harassed in the bar and that the straight girl in their group “who was nowhere near drunk who got grabbed by the arm, but the worst part is they said they [the cops] had numerous people face down on the ground outside.”

(Back to Kayla Lane) These people were NOT drunk, or even overly happy or silly. As the last office came by, some patrons were calling out “Homophobes!,” “Fucking Assholes,” etc. – obviously and justifiably upset over the present actions. The officer, whose head was turned the other way, looked back and saw and recognized me as questioning the state policeman earlier, and yanked my arm, forcing me out of the bar in front of him.

After pulling my arm away once we were outside, I calmly told him it was not me that called him these names, but he aggressively insisted it was, no matter what I said. Then he accused me of stirring up trouble by talking to the policeman earlier. I said it was my right to question, as a concerned citizen, these actions. He responded that, “What we do, is right. You can’t question when we are doing something.” I said something about him not understanding a democracy then.

(From commenter “Tiffany”) I was really confused last night when suddenly, from all directions I see people being led out with zip ties on their hands looking very frightened. It seemed like the officers were provoking their victims as well. One man that had been arrested was standing on the side walk while an officer was being very aggressive and kept pushing the man around and trying to argue with him. The man finally asked him to stop touching him because he was just trying to stand still. It was really bizarre! None of the men that I saw arrested were visibly intoxicated and they all cooperated considering the way they were treated.

(Back to Shane) I was still standing near the entrance to the VIP lounge with a friend when an officer approached a man standing there. The man had water in his hand. The officer asked him how much he had had to drink and the man said that he didn’t have to answer that. The officer then said that he was going to arrest him for public intoxication. The man said,”You can’t do that I am just standing here right now drinking water.” At the time the officer shoved the man over towards the wall near the dressing room and then back to the rear wall near the men’s restroom, then down onto the floor. Several other officers, made their way back there to hold that ONE MAN down on the ground as they placed restraints on him. At the time I noticed that all of them did not have FWPD uniforms on. Some of them were actually State Police.

Finally, Kristy Morgan gives an update on her brother Chad Gibson, who suffered a head injury and was hospitalized after police threw him to the ground during the raid.

Kristy said the initial CAT scan performed earlier today showed little or no damage. However, a second CAT scan performed this afternoon showed that the bleeding in his brain had increased.

“We won’t know anything more until tomorrow when they do more tests,” she said.

Kristy said Chad has awake today, but that he has no memory of the incident in the bar and that his memor of events today have been spotty. She said he remembers her being there, but that he doesn’t remember talking to the doctor this morning, and he doesn’t remember visits by some of his friends during the day.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or what kind of bar you are in,” Kristy said, “none of this should have happened, to anybody. It’s excessive force, and it shouldn’t have happened.”

Of course, at this point these are all unproven allegations and blah blah blah, but as you can see, eight unrelated witnesses have painted a fairly consistent picture less than 24 hours after the raid. It would appear that the Texas state and local authorities will have some explaining to do in the coming days.

More on this story as it develops.

Stonewall Remembered 40 Years Later

I’m typing this 40 years almost to the minute since the New York City police backed a paddy wagon up to the Stonewall Inn in preparation for a raid of the gay bar. While the riots that started early that Saturday morning certainly weren’t the first instance of an organized LGBT movement in America, they were the spark that set off a new era of unrestrained advocacy that previous generations had only dreamed possible.

Democracy Now has a good retrospective of the Stonewall Riots, including analysis of what happened immediately before June 28, 1969, and what made this raid different from all the others and made them find their voices that morning. Included is audio from the 1989 documentary Stonewall Remembered. To hear that entire documentary uncut, go here.

(For information about the 50 years of LGBT culture and activism before 1969, please see the post LGBT History: Before Stonewall.)

DAVE ISAY: The local precinct had just received a new commanding officer, who kicked off his tenure by initiating a series of raids on gay bars. The Stonewall was an inviting target. Operated by the Gambino crime family without a liquor license, the dance bar drew a crowd of drag queens, hustlers and minors. A number of the bar’s patrons had spent the early part of the day outside the Frank Campbell Funeral Home, where Judy Garland’s funeral was held. She had died the Sunday before. It was almost precisely at midnight that the morals squad pulled up to the Stonewall Inn, led by Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine.

SYLVIA RIVERA: At that time, we lived at the Arista Hotel. We used to sit around, just try to figure out when this harassment would come to an end. And we would always dream that one day it would come to an end. And we prayed and we looked for it. We wanted to be human beings.

MAMA JEAN: I remember one cop coming at me, hitting me with the nightstick on the back of my legs. I broke loose, and I went after him. I grabbed his nightstick. My girlfriend went behind him. She was a strong son of a gun. I wanted him to feel the same pain I felt. And I kept on saying to him, “How do you like the pain? Do you like it? Do you like it?” And I kept on hitting him and hitting him. I was angry. I wanted to kill him. At that particular minute, I wanted to kill him.

SYLVIA RIVERA: I wanted to do every destructive thing that I could think of at that time to hurt anyone that had hurt us through the years.

Lt. Dan Choi at the Pink Triangle: We Are Not Asking Anymore

Saturday in San Fransisco, Twin Peaks was transformed with the Pink Triangle in an annual remembrance for the gay victims of the Nazi Holocaust. While Jews were the Nazis’ major target, other groups felt their wrath as well. Paragraph 175 of the German Penal code outlawed homosexuality and explicitly permitted the removal of civil rights. From the Pink Triangle’s official website:

Triangles of various colors were used to identify each category of “undesirable”: yellow for Jews, brown of Gypsies, red for political prisoners, green for criminals, black for anti-socials, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses, blue for immigrants, and pink for homosexuals.

The pink triangles were slightly larger than the other colored triangles so that guards could identify them from a distance. It is said that those who wore the pink triangles were singled out by the guards to receive the harshest treatment, and when the guards were finished with them, some of the other inmates would harm them as well.

At the end of the war, when the concentration camps were finally liberated, virtually all of the prisoners were released except those who wore the pink triangle. Many of those with a pink triangle on their pocket were put back in prison and their nightmare continued.

1Lt. Dan Choi was asked to speak at this year’s ceremony in honor of the 100,000 victims of the pink triangle and the approximately 11,000 who were killed by the Nazis.

Lt. Choi will stand before his discharge board this Tuesday and will probably be fired from the military. His only crime is that of the pink triangle.

Gay DNC Donors to Obama: We Don’t Care About Civil Rights Either

After several weeks of calls for boycott following the Obama administration’s failure to attend to any of his campaign promises, the 10th annual LGBT Leadership Council fundraiser for the DNC went on as planned last night. The event, with Vice President Joe Biden as the main attraction, was boycotted by at least 13 prominent members of the community, as well as the Stonewall Democrats and former DNC chair Howard Dean.

And yet, the DNC reportedly raised nearly a million dollars, at least 30% more than last year’s pre-election event. From Advocate.com:

Despite the controversy, about 180 people showed up to hear Vice President Joe Biden speak for a price tag of $1,000 to $30,400 per plate. The event brought in nearly $1 million, up from about $750,000 last year, according to a Democratic Party source.

When Vice President Joe Biden took the stage, he told the crowd that he had specifically asked to speak at the event and that his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, had also requested to address a Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network event earlier this month.

“I am not unaware of the controversies swirling around this dinner,” Biden said, “swirling around the speed — or lack thereof — that we’re moving on issues that are of great importance to you and, quite frankly, to me and to the President and to millions of Americans.”

The Vice President’s words are nice, but as we’ve learned over the last six months, they signify no real change in policy.

By donating a record amount, even amidst the outcry from the LGBT community, even while protesters from SLDN drew attention to President Obama’s refusal to halt the firing of servicemembers such as Maj. Margaret Witt, Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, and 1Lt. Dan Choi, even after White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said yesterday morning that President Obama would continue to ruin the lives, careers, and futures of these honorable, dedicated servicemembers, even as it becomes clear that the Matthew Shepard Act will be DOA if it even makes it to the president’s desk, these donors have made a statement.

Their statement is this: They don’t care. Their access to and hobnobbing with well-heeled Washington insiders is more important to them than pesky rank-and-file members of the community who just want to stop being abused.

Understand the damage done last night. Every advance we’ve made over the last few weeks since the Obama Justice Department released its shameful DOMA brief, is now gone. The Democratic party knows, and President Obama knows, that we don’t control the community’s purse strings. Our supposed social betters do that for us, and they’ll keep the money flowing no matter what President Obama and Congress do.

So. Where do we go from here?

It’s been a month since David Mixner proposed a March on Washington for October 10-11, 2009 and this does nothing but solidify my support of the idea. Our job now is to show both our national leaders and the A-list LGBTs that our voices are louder than their money. Our goal is nothing short of full and total equality. Our duty is to secure a better future for our children.

Our time is now.

LGBT History: Before Stonewall

We’re only a few days from celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, long recognized as the beginning of the modern LGBT movement. As preparation, please consider watching the 1984 documentary Before Stonewall. From the film’s page on Netflix:

Life was very different before the 1969 Stonewall riots put the issue of gay rights front and center in America. Using archival films and interviews with gays and lesbians who were forced to hide their sexuality for fear of reprisals, this documentary by Robert Rosenberg, Greta Schiller and John Scagliotti sheds light on American gay life from the 1920s to the 1960s and the sociopolitical climate that finally led to profound change.

It’s quite interesting to watch a 25 year old documentary. On one level, I’m struck by how bold these people, many now dead, were in the 1920s and even during World War II. On another, I’m surprised at how far we’ve come just since the film was shot and in awe at the groundwork that was laid by our foremothers and forefathers.

Before Stonewall is currently available to rent or watch online in its entirety at Netflix. Take 90 minutes and be surprised at the rich history you never knew.

Soulforce and Reconciling Ministries Announce Staff Changes

Last night I opened up my email and found that two prominent opponents of the oppression of LGBT people in Christian churches have made some staffing changes.

First, Soulforce added Carol Boltz, former wife of Christian music icon Ray Boltz, to the Soulforce Board of Directors. Since Ray announced his coming out last year (she’d known since late 2004), Carol has been unbelievably supportive as she and her family reevaluated their beliefs. As her bio on the Soulforce website says:

As a mother of four grown children, and a grandmother to two, Carol was married for over 30 years until her husband, Ray, came out as gay. Their fundamentalist Christian background was shaken to realize that being gay was not a choice, and Carol had to reevaluate the core of her beliefs. She describes this as both a heartbreaking and growing life change, and one that has led her to a very different path. Rather than distance herself from the issues involved, Carol has become an advocate of both straight spouses as well as the GLBTQ communities.

Soulforce advocates “freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance.” Carol Boltz also announced her new position has her own blog.

At the same time, Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) has announced via email some staff changes. RMN, for the uninitiated, is “a national network of United Methodist-focused organizations advocating for the full inclusion of persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities into the life of the Church.”

After sixteen years of ministry affirming that “Reconciling is the radical notion that gay people want to go to church” Sue Laurie officially retires from her staff role with RMN on September 7 at the Justice and Joy convocation. In her past eight years as outreach staff, she has faithfully spread the Good News that all are welcome at God’s table.

Carl Davis joins Reconciling Ministries Network after having spent the last seven years pastoring United Methodist congregations in the North Indiana Conference. Prior to that Carl was a Captain in The Salvation Army, where he served as the Executive Director for The Salvation Army in Miami County, Indiana, and as the Assistant Director of The Salvation Army in Columbia, Missouri.

(I’m not sure how long that link will be active, so here’s a screen shot.)

If you’ve been around this blog from the beginning, you may remember Sue Laurie as the author of a fantastic letter in reaction to the nightmare that was General Conference 2008. Her passion will certainly be missed.

There are also two open positions at RMN. You can check out the job descriptions and requirements for an Associate Executive Director and an Administrative and Donor Relations Associate at the link. If I lived in Chicago, I’d be fighting you for the second one.

Lt. Col. Fehrenbach Returns to Maddow; Still Hopeful

On last night’s broadcast, Rachel Maddow welcomed back to the show Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, an 18-year veteran in the US Air Force, highly decorated and recognized for his skill as an aviator. Fehrenbach is being fired less than two years before retirement because he’s gay.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

As Fehrenbach noted, he will be attending the controversial Stonewall Anniversary party next Monday at the White House as a guest of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Let’s hope he gets a chance to personally talk some sense into President Obama.