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Ban on trans service members a lingering injustice

Dan Choi, GetEqual, DADT, Don't Ask Don't Tell, gay news, Washington Blade, transgender service

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal activists handcuffed themselves to the White House fence in 2010. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

By Will Smith

Transgender Americans serve our country in uniform at twice the rate of the general population yet they are forced to keep their gender identity a secret or risk being discharged. While the United States military made a tremendous step forward within the realm of social justice and fairness with the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” nothing was done to remove the ban on transgender individuals from serving in uniform, a uniform I proudly wear as an officer in the Naval Reserve.

There is no doubt the “next generation,” my generation, possesses a completely different worldview than our parents and certainly our grandparents. The lens through which we view the world has been colored with more shades of equality than any other in our country’s history. We cannot forget that some my age are merely one generation removed from a time when people were deprived of their voting rights, equal access to quality education and public facilities — people like my parents.

My generation drinks deeply from wells we did not ourselves dig. We have been afforded a vast array of opportunities that eluded those who came before us. To us, issues like equality should transcend religious affiliation, gender and race. To us, issues like marriage equality, the ability to rent a home we can afford and military service are viewed as unalienable rights, civil rights deserving of the law’s protection.

To me — a heterosexual, African-American, church-going, Catholic military officer — the issue of transgender service is personal. Equal rights and the struggle for fair treatment under the law is analogous to the civil rights struggles of my parents and grandparents. As the great civil rights activist Julian Bond once said, “No parallels between movements for rights is exact … but we are far from the only people suffering discrimination — sadly, so do many others. They deserve the law’s protection and they deserve civil rights too.”

In 2008, the fall of my third year of law school at The College of William and Mary, I applied for a commission as a Naval Reserve officer. This was an important and personal decision for me. I have always believed people’s safety and security was as important to protect as their civil liberties. My military service has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have been tremendously enriched by the love of country and dedication to its principles those with whom I serve demonstrated every day. My love and dedication to our country has compelled me to write this article. My aim is not only to shed light on this issue, but also to appeal to those in positions of power with the hope they may find the same strength and courage our service members display every day to rectify this lingering injustice.

Will Smith of Silver Spring is a candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates in District 20.

14
Jan
2014

Gay 79 y.o. Marine dies 2 weeks after discharge finally changed to “honorable”

A sad, yet uplifting, story about Hal Faulkner, a 79 year old gay Marine who found justice after nearly 60 years.

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16
Jan
2014

Finishing the job of the LGBT movement

mass wedding, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, Supreme Court, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, Prop 8, DOMA, gay news, LGBT, Washington Blade, marriage equality

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The nature of LGBT activism is changing fast in this post-DOMA/Prop 8/DADT world. As LGBT acceptance grows and anti-gay laws continue to fall, it’s easy to forget where we came from, how we got here and what’s left to accomplish.

Pride week seems a good time to reflect on some of that.

One recent story illustrates just how dramatically different the world is today: Michael Sam’s NFL draft and kiss with his boyfriend broadcast live on ESPN. The “ick” factor remains a potent enemy of LGBT equality, from straight men tweeting their horror at the kiss, to opponents of Maryland’s recently approved trans rights law trying to scare voters into thinking men dressed as women will flock to bathrooms and locker rooms. That’s why spontaneous displays of affection like Sam’s are important — such visibility will slowly ease the discomfort some feel at the sight of two men or two women together.

Although Sam’s coming out is a courageous step, some won’t recognize his process as particularly pioneering. When Martina Navratilova came out in the early 1980s, she lost untold millions in endorsement deals and endured the homophobic and misogynistic barbs of commentators and tennis fans the world over. Contrast that with Sam’s carefully choreographed announcement, Visa endorsement deal and the NFL’s aggressive moves to shield him from criticism.

Indeed, much has changed. From the days when activism meant taking to the streets, as chronicled in HBO’s “Normal Heart,” which debuted last month, to our modern view of activists as lawyers and lobbyists.

As things get better, it’s important to remember that not everyone is benefitting from all the positive change. The Blade in January embarked on a special yearlong series focusing on poverty in the LGBT community. We’ve told many stories of those in our community struggling with chronic unemployment, discrimination and health care dilemmas. There’s much more to come this year in the series.

Poverty isn’t the only problem facing the LGBT community. From transgender people who face disproportionately high rates of violence and discrimination to prison inmates coping with discriminatory laws behind bars to LGBT youth living on the streets to the stubbornly high rates of HIV infection among MSM, there is much work ahead.

And as we remember those less fortunate at home, let’s also look abroad to those LGBT people struggling to overcome hate in countries around the world like Russia, Uganda and elsewhere where being LGBT can mean imprisonment and even death.

The Blade is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year and our Pride float will reflect the changes in both the LGBT community as well as at the paper itself — from our early days as a black-and-white one-sheet newsletter featuring stories about police harassment to our modern incarnation complete with social media platforms and mobile app.

If there’s one common thread in all the thousands of stories the Blade has published over the years it’s our focus on telling the stories of LGBT people. Some readers still occasionally question why we disclose the sexual orientation of sources in our stories. The reason speaks to our core mission of chronicling our own history and overcoming hate and bias through visibility. Encouraging visibility is also why Pride celebrations remain important. Not everyone lives in LGBT-friendly places like D.C. They come from rural Virginia, Pennsylvania, Western Maryland and other locales that seem close by but for some can feel a world away from a city like Washington with its pro-LGBT politicians, an openly gay candidate running for mayor, marriage equality law and progressive laws protecting transgender residents.

So as we celebrate Pride this weekend in D.C., let’s be mindful that marriage equality isn’t the only goal of the movement and that when the weekend’s revelry ends we need to recommit ourselves to finishing the job.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

05
Jun
2014

Pride celebration at Fort Meade

Kevin Naff, National Press Club, gay news, Washington Blade

Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Defense Media Activity, which provides news and information on behalf of the Defense Department to service members around the world, held its first-ever Pride month commemoration on Tuesday.

Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff was the featured speaker at the event, held at the Fort Meade Army installation in suburban Maryland, where the DMA is located. In his hour-long remarks, Naff touched on an array of LGBT-related topics, including the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the continuing ban on openly transgender service members.

About 75 civilian staffers and uniformed service members attended the event, which was held in a state-of-the-art DMA television studio and recorded for a future broadcast on YouTube. Naff was introduced by Kenji Mundy, the wife of a retired service member who shared her story of supporting her spouse from the closet as she served in Iraq. Mundy said she often turned to the Blade for news and information about DADT and other issues over the years.

“It was an honor to speak at Fort Meade,” Naff said after the event. “I never imagined 12 years ago when I started at the Blade that within a decade the U.S. military would be inviting openly gay speakers to its bases to celebrate Pride month.”

Defense Media Activity presents information and entertainment across a variety of platforms, including radio, TV, Internet, print and social media to millions of U.S. forces around the world.

25
Jun
2014

Thank you, Mr. President

Barack Obama, executive order, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama on Monday signed the executive order barring anti-gay bias by federal contractors that many of us have written about and asked him for since 2008 when he first promised to do it. We need to thank him for keeping his promise and taking another step toward securing full civil and human rights for the LGBT community. We have come a long way during his presidency.

This executive order is not a new initiative. What the president has done is to add sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of protected categories that were applied to federal contractors in an executive order first approved by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. As reported in the New York Times, “He is also adding gender identity as a protected category to a 1969 directive by President Richard M. Nixon that applies to federal employees, which was later amended by President Bill Clinton to include sexual orientation.”

This is a great step forward but it appears that while this EO applies to federal contracts it does not apply to federal grants whose criteria are usually left to each individual agency. The LGBT community takes heart that we have been heard and the EO does not carve out any new religious exemptions that don’t already exist for other protected categories. It is estimated this executive order applies to 24,000 companies that are designated as federal contractors and whose 28 million workers make up about a fifth of the American workforce.

Monday’s signing was done against a backdrop of the fight for legislation including ENDA ongoing for many years. That fight and the issue of exemptions for religious organizations have been impacted by the recent Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case. The first comprehensive legislation to ban discrimination against the LGBT community was introduced by Bella S. Abzug (D-N.Y.) in 1974. That legislation didn’t pass and there has ensued a long and sometimes bitter battle to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which first passed the House of Representatives in 2007 but didn’t get through the Senate. This past year, it passed the Senate but looks like it will fail in the House so we will be back to square one in the next Congress.

President Obama ran in 2008 and made a number of promises to the LGBT community including repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and signing this executive order to get support in the election and it clearly worked. The problem many in the community have had is that every move forward on his part including making these issues a priority once he was in office seemed to coincide with a difficult election, either the mid-term congressional or his own reelection. Forward momentum seemed designed politically to recharge and energize the LGBT community to vote in and raise more money for a coming election. That strategy has worked and includes his well-timed decision to evolve, or as some suggested revolve, as he once before did support it, on the issue of marriage equality.

As someone deeply involved in the political process for more than 40 years I find this strategy understandable. As an activist it is my hope as we move beyond the Obama presidency we will move LGBT issues away from being just a political football and that they will be as ingrained in the continuing fight for civil and human rights as are the fights for the civil rights of African Americans and women’s rights. We also need to move the fight for immigration reform away from the politics of the moment to the politics of full inclusion.

President Obama will always be seen as a hero to the LGBT community for how far we have come during his presidency. He is by nature a decent man. But let us hope that his elections will be the last in which the issues of full civil and human rights for the LGBT community are even debated in the Democratic Party. Unfortunately at this time we can’t say the same for the Republican Party but we can always hope for a better future even there.

We know as we have seen the arc of history with regard to civil rights and women’s rights that we will always have to be vigilant to maintain any forward momentum. But that will be a different fight thanks to this president.

23
Jul
2014

Various stories I didn’t get to, but you ought to check out (open thread-y)

From testicle-eating piranhas in the Seine, to the cancellation of True Blood, and the danger of e-cigs.

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05
Sep
2013

A look back on the three year anniversary of DADT`s repeal

The repeal of DADT was a huge step forward, but the full mission, 3 years later, has yet to be accomplished.

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02
Dec
2013

Oklahoma joins other backwards southern states in dissing gay military members

Oklahoma is refusing to process benefits for the spouses of gay military members. How petty can Republicans get?

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17
Sep
2013

Military dragging feet on SecDef’s order giving gay troops leave to marry

One commander refused to obey the Secretary of Defense's order, telling a lieutenant to use her vacation time.

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02
Oct
2013

Wikileaks on TPP, the south hates gays, and conservative Catholics ain`t feelin` the love

An assortment of stories I didn't get to, so you get them all at once in snippet format :)

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14
Nov
2013