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Francis invited to visit homeless LGBT youth advocacy group

Carl Siciliano, Ali Forney Center, LGBT youth, gay news, homelessness, Washington Blade

Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center. (Photo courtesy of the Ali Forney Center)

NEW YORK – The executive director of an organization that advocates on behalf of homeless LGBT youth invited Pope Francis to visit his group in an open letter the New York Times published on Sunday.

“I greatly respect you as a leader who has shown deep concern for the plight of the poor,” writes Ali Forney Center Executive Director Carl Siciliano. “I invite you to the Ali Forney Center, to meet our abandoned youths and see for yourself how their lives have been devastated and made destitute by religious rejection. I believe that there is no more compelling witness to the harmfulness of the condemnation of homosexuality than the consequent suffering plainly visible in the eyes of our homeless LGBT youths.”

Siciliano, a Catholic who is a former monk, urges Francis to take “urgent action” to protect homeless LGBT youth from the “devastating consequences of religious rejection” he told the Washington Blade on Friday is the most common reason those whom his organization serves are forced from their homes.

“At the heart of the problem is that the church still teaches that homosexual conduct is a sin, and that being gay is disordered,” says Siciliano in his letter to Francis. “I hope that if you understand how this teaching tears families apart and brings suffering to innocent youths, you will end this teaching and prevent your bishops from fighting against the acceptance of LGBT people as equal members of society.”

Siciliano in his letter notes at least 200,000 LGBT youth in the U.S. experienced homelessness in 2013. Statistics further indicate 40 percent of the country’s homeless youth are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

“The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and most influential Christian organization in the world,” writes Siciliano. “By teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin, and that the homosexual orientation is disordered, it influences countless parents and families in societies across the globe to reject their children. In the name of these children, and in light of the love and compassion at the heart of the message of Jesus, I ask that you end this teaching.”

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Home Furnishings paid for the New York Times ad that coincides with Palm Sunday.

Gold told the Blade on Friday he and Faith in America Executive Director Brent Childers had discussed the idea of an open letter to Francis several months ago as a way to further highlight the role they feel organized religion continues to play in the promotion of anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination. Gold said he realized Siciliano “understood the same thing” after reading something that he had written.

“I’m hopeful that putting this out publicly will put this central question on the table, and that all advocacy groups and news media will learn more about it and frankly see how harmful this ‘sin’ teaching is,” Gold told the Blade. “While others tell me this is a heavy lift or you can’t get the Catholic Church to change, I say ‘let’s try.’”

LGBT Catholics have welcomed Francis’ more moderate tone on marriage, homosexuality and other gay-specific issues since he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI last March. The Vatican’s position on the aforementioned topics has not changed in spite of the Argentine-born pontiff’s more conciliatory tone.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in February sharply criticized the church over its opposition to homosexuality and other declarations that “contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against” LGBT adolescents and children who are raised by same-sex parents. Francis in October is scheduled to host a meeting of Catholic bishops that will focus on strengthening the family.

Siciliano in 2012 criticized New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan over his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples in the Empire State in an open letter the Huffington Post published. He also invited him to visit the Ali Forney Center.

Dolan declined the invitation in what Siciliano categorized to the Blade as a “nasty letter.”

“This is a very ground-breaking pope,” said Siciliano when asked whether he thinks Francis would accept his invitation to visit the Ali Forney Center during any potential visit to the U.S. “I wouldn’t put anything beyond him.”

13
Apr
2014

Long live prophetic voice of James Baldwin

James Baldwin, gay news, Washington Blade

James Baldwin (Photo by Allan Warren; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Back in the day, being on the cover of Time magazine was huge. Then, everyone from salesclerks to Wall Street traders read the newsweekly, and if your face, well known or not, peered out from it on newsstands or in mailboxes, everyone would know your name.

This was especially true when James Baldwin, the iconic novelist, essayist, playwright and poet, who wrote stirringly and eloquently on the civil rights movement, race and sexuality, made the cover of Time on May 13, 1963. Time made Baldwin a celebrity after the publication earlier that year of “The Fire Next Time,” his searing essays on race and civil rights. One of my most vivid youthful memories is that of my Dad pointing to Baldwin’s visage on Time and saying, “That man is our conscience! You’d have to be made of stone not to listen to him.”

I’m remembering this because Baldwin, who died in the South of France at age 63 in 1987, was born in Harlem 90 years ago this year. Yet, the legacy of Baldwin, black and openly gay years before Stonewall, and one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, is fading in many classrooms, the New York Times reported recently. Fortunately, steps are being taken to commemorate and preserve Baldwin’s legacy.

From April 23-27, the New York Live Arts festival “James Baldwin, This Time” began a year-long celebration of Baldwin in venues from Harlem Stage to the Columbia University School of the Arts. In 2013, “Giovanni’s Room” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” two novels by Baldwin were reissued by Vintage. “Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems” by James Baldwin is just out from Beacon Press.

“James Baldwin served as the conscience of America during the civil rights movement,” Matthew Rothschild, senior editor of The Progressive, which published Baldwin’s famous “Letter to My Nephew in 1962,” emailed the Blade. “He wrote with tremendous power.”

Today, when same-sex couples can marry in 17 states and in D.C., out writers from poets to playwrights are a dime a dozen, and the United States has a black president, it’s hard to imagine how prescient and bold Baldwin was.

“When you were starting out as a writer, you were a black, impoverished, homosexual,” an interviewer said to Baldwin. “You must have said to yourself: ‘gee, how disadvantaged could I get?’”

“Oh, no, I thought I hit the jackpot!” Baldwin replied. “It was so outrageous you could not go any further. You had to figure out a way to use it.”

Baldwin “used it” spectacularly: to speak truth to power, spur on writers, to electrify his time and generations to come with his tender, precise, pointed, words, presence and spirit.  “Black, gay, beautiful, bejeweled, eyes like orbs, searching, dancing, calling a spade a spade … Baldwin was dangerous to anybody who had anything to hide,” Nikki Finney writes in the introduction to “Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems.”

He was “a man who had no … no concept of his place,” Finney continues, “who nurtured conversation with Black Panthers and the white literati on the same afternoon.”

Poets can be prophets, E. Ethelbert Miller, poet and director of Howard University’s African-American Resource Center, said in a telephone interview with the Blade. “Baldwin was a prophetic voice. He was in the middle between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X – between the church and the blues,” Miller said. “He’s wrestling with how to talk about love and sex.”

The blues gives you a feeling of strength as well as of suffering, Miller said.

“The blues gives you a sense of resilience that enables you to confront what they throw at you,” Miller said. “Baldwin wouldn’t have anyone restricting who he wants to love.”

Why does Baldwin’s legacy matter? Because we still perpetuate and encounter homophobia and racism; and great writing still nourishes our hearts and minds. Happy Birthday, Mr. Baldwin! Long live your prophetic voice!

Kathi Wolfe, a poet and writer, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

30
Apr
2014

Putin’s unlikely American allies

Vladimir Putin, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo public domain)

Vladimir Putin has found some unlikely U.S. allies in his efforts at smearing lipstick on the pig that is his oppressive government.

MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, who’s gay, released a self-important announcement last week that he plans to co-host the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, crowing that “courage is contagious.”

“I am not going to boycott,” Thomas writes. “Boycotting and vilifying from the outside is too easy. Rather, I choose to offer my support of the LGBT community in Russia by going to Moscow and hosting this event as a journalist, an anchor and a man who happens to be gay. Let people see I am no different than anyone else.”

Let’s unpack this fantastical statement. First, those who have assailed Putin’s anti-gay laws aren’t “vilifying” Putin or Russia. They are rightly condemning harsh laws that have led to violent attacks on Russian gays. That chorus has included figures from President Obama to Bravo’s Andy Cohen (who turned down the Miss Universe hosting job) to newly out actor Wentworth Miller. They have condemned Russia’s push to criminalize pro-gay “propaganda” and efforts to ban couples from countries where same-sex marriage is legal from adopting children.

Second, touting your journalistic credentials while accepting a cheesy gig from none other than Donald Trump, who owns the pageant, is downright laughable. Trump has been outspoken in his staunch opposition to marriage equality. Rather than take questions from actual journalists, Roberts interviewed Trump on his own show to discuss the controversy last week. The two talked a big game of taking on Putin’s anti-gay laws.

“The gay groups in Moscow are loving the fact that we are going over there,” Trump said. “ … So I think that you’re going to do something about it, and I think that I’m going to do something about it.”

They didn’t elaborate on what exactly they plan to do about it, nor did they name any Russian gay groups that are allegedly celebrating this tawdry pandering.

Finally, Roberts thinks that allowing viewers to see that he’s “no different from anyone else” will somehow improve life for Russian gays. The reality is that viewers won’t see anything that Russian censors don’t want to be shown. Viewers will see the photogenic Roberts dutifully reading his teleprompter, towing the line for his homophobic boss Trump.

Roberts’ ego knows no bounds as he compares his “courage” to that of Harvey Milk, writing, “I go to prove there’s hope.” Roberts’ actions — accepting a big fat paycheck from a homophobic Tea Party birther like Trump to host a beauty pageant — bare no resemblance to activism or journalism. Roberts is shilling for Trump’s corporate interests and, in the process, giving cover to an oppressive government. He should reconsider and drop out of this train wreck if he hopes to preserve whatever is left of his credibility.

And Roberts isn’t alone in giving cover and comfort to Putin. The Washington Post and New York Times continue to publish supplements, thinly disguised as “advertorials,” paid for by the Russian government. The special sections are inserted into the print editions of the newspapers and amount to nothing more than pro-Putin propaganda.

Publishers make decisions all the time about what kinds of advertising to accept and reject, including ads for alcohol, cigarettes and sexually oriented businesses, among others. The Post and Times cover Putin’s anti-gay efforts on their editorial pages but then, as readers turn the page, they are subjected to unchecked pro-Putin propaganda. Surely Jeff Bezos, the Post’s new owner and $21 billion man, doesn’t need Putin’s money. He’s talked of reinventing newspapers for the digital age. Let’s hope the industry’s future doesn’t lie in trading credibility for a quick buck from dictators, despots and killers like Putin.

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

21
Oct
2013

Why coming out still matters

Mike Michaud, Democratic Party, Maine, gay news, Washington Blade, coming out

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) (Photo public domain)

Growing up, I never dreamed that openly LGBT people could be politicians, athletes or celebs, let alone thrive as teachers, cops, doctors or clergy. It was shocking news when the late Rock Hudson was outed by AIDS; tennis icon Billie Jean King revealed she is a lesbian; and former Rep. Barney Frank came out. Yet, as I write this, Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) who’s running for governor, has just come out as gay, and the sky hasn’t fallen.

“My #gaydar missed it, but happy to welcome @RepMikeMIchaud to team lgbt,” Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who is gay, tweeted. Many in the media agree with Michaud, who wrote in an op-ed column in the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News, “Why should [being gay] matter?”

Media mavens had the same reaction recently when Gawker, the news and gossip site, seemingly confirmed what many have long suspected: Fox News anchor Shepard Smith is likely gay. Smith was in a New York bar with “a muscular 6-foot-2-30-something white male.”

“At a time when gay people can marry and fly helicopters in the Marines, is it time to consign outing to history, alongside other 90′s crazes like Zima and square-toed shoes?” Alex Williams wrote in the New York Times about Gawker’s Smith reveal.

At the risk of sounding so 1999, I beg to differ. We can marry now in 14 states plus Washington, D.C.; a celeb comes out every nano-sec; and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed. Coming out often no longer involves the drama, tears, fears and angst of yesteryear.  When I was young, I felt like I was in an “After School” special when I told my family I was queer. Last summer, when I saw relatives for the first time in years, we chatted about same-sex weddings we’d attended. Jim Parsons of the “Big Bang Theory” came out seamlessly by briefly mentioning his partner in a New York Times interview.

“That may seem like a big announcement to some people. For me, it’s just a part of who I am, as much as being a third-generation millworker or a lifelong Mainer,” Michaud wrote in the op-ed saying that he’s gay, “One thing I do know is that it has nothing to do with my ability to lead the state of Maine.”

Michaud’s being gay has nothing to do with how effective a governor he would make.  Yet, fair or not, his being gay and coming out do matter. Michaud isn’t a right-wing, anti-gay hypocrite. Yet, he didn’t come out voluntarily. He disclosed his sexual orientation after his opponents insinuated that he’s queer. “I wasn’t surprised to learn about the whisper campaigns … some of the people opposed to my candidacy have been using to raise questions about my personal life,” Michaud wrote in his op-ed. “They want people to question whether I am gay.  Allow me to save them the trouble with a simple, honest answer. Yes I am.”

Some may not care who Shepard Smith dates or which celebrities and politicians are closeted. Yet many of us still struggle with homophobia. In this country, you can be fired in the workplace for being gay in 29 states, and 33 states have no protection for employment discrimination based on gender identity. While ENDA is likely to pass the U.S. Senate, it’s unlikely to be passed by the House of Representatives.

My friend Penny recently talked to her pal. “Her 19-year-old nephew just came out,” she said, “ His father said to him, ‘being gay is a sin! How can you still go to church?’”

This young man’s story is far from unique. In a world where despite much progress, homophobia remains a part of our daily life, coming out still matters.

06
Nov
2013

A reminder to boycott the red buckets

Salvation Army, red bucket, charity, anti-gay, homophobia, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Cory Doctorow; courtesy Creative Commons)

By KONRAD JUENGLING

The Salvation Army is one of the most recognized charities in the United States. Each holiday we see the bell ringers outside of businesses collecting change in pots while the bell ringer shivers in the cold. It’s a regular part of the shopping experience while we rush about to get the presents that we need.

When I was a child, I always asked my mom for change so that I could give it to the bell ringers and feel like I did something that made a difference. The difference people are making when they donate to the Salvation Army, though, is a difference for a very select population of people: heterosexual Christians. What a lot of people, myself included until recently, do not realize is that the SA is actively and institutionally homophobic and works against people in the LGBTQ community.

This inequality is built into the very structure of the SA. For this self styled “evangelical part of the universal Christian Church,” the homophobia is literally written into its handbook. For its position statement on LGBTQ individuals, ”The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life.” Telling people that they are not entitled to love another person because of their sexuality is degrading and inappropriate. You could argue that they are only staying true to their beliefs, but what if one of their beliefs was not to help African Americans? Or the disabled? Is it appropriate for a tax-exempt organization to discriminate against a certain population of minorities?

Mark Oppenheimer wrote a 2011 story for the New York Times solely about the SA turning away people because they are gay. While the SA has denied this, with their culture of discrimination and continued media reports, it’s a slim-to-none chance that people aren’t experiencing that discrimination when they look for help. We’ve also seen the SA threatening to leave New York City altogether in 2004 if they were “forced” to abide by the law of requiring health benefits for employees’ same-sex partners. In 2012, we heard SA media relations official Major Andrew Craibe imply on national radio that gays should be put to death. These aren’t isolated incidents; they’re just a small sampling of the SA’s continued dedication to only minister to heterosexuals.

Donating to an organization that actively works against LGBTQ rights supports the belief that heterosexual people are worth more than LGBTQ people. For those that believe that people are all equal, tossing your coins into the red bucket is in direct contrast to that. For those that donate to the Salvation Army, you’re saying that it’s OK to discriminate and to turn needy people away because they are different than the majority. These aren’t the values that Christianity, America or common sense ascribe to. Instead of donating to SA, donate to the American Red Cross if you’re looking for a large organization. If you want something a little smaller, there are any number of local shelters that would be grateful for your support.

When shopping, remember how you choose to spend (and donate) your money shows support for that organization; just make sure you’re supporting the right cause. Skip the red buckets and support an inclusive, non-discriminatory organization that truly wants to help everyone that comes through its doors.

Konrad Juengling is attending Portland State University with the goal of working with juvenile sex offenders.

17
Dec
2013

A giant step for equality

In looking toward the Supreme Court’s marriage decisions, Adam Liptak wrote in the New York Times, “Gay men and lesbians have yet to achieve formal legal equality. They are not protected against job discrimination in much of the nation, may not marry their same-sex partners in most of it and do not have their marriages recognized by the federal government in any of it.”

Walter Dellinger, former acting Solicitor General in the Clinton administration wrote in Slate, “it is hard to overstate the importance of the Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision in United States v. Windsor. At issue is the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that defines ‘spouse,’ and ‘marriage,’ for all federal purposes, to exclude same-sex couples. According to the solicitor general, there are 1,138 federal laws and programs affected by this definition. As a result of DOMA, same-sex couples legally married under their own state’s laws are nonetheless denied benefits otherwise afforded to married couples under federal employment laws, Social Security laws, tax laws, immigration laws and myriad other programs. It is a simple as this: As long as DOMA is in effect, no gay couple anywhere in this country is truly married. If a gay couple is deemed not to be married for more than 1,000 purposes governed by federal law, it’s hard to say that anything approaching marriage equality exists anywhere in the country, no matter how many states allow same-sex couples to marry.”

With its decision on DOMA, the Supreme Court made clear that some members of the LGBT community are for the first time truly married. By ruling 5-4 that DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment, the court said that the federal government can’t discriminate against and deny federal benefits to couples that are legally married in a state.

The decision means that the 1,138 benefits, including those that Dellinger mentioned, will now have to be looked at by the Obama administration and they will have to determine how they are applicable for gay and lesbian married couples.

The Obama administration has known for a long time that this case could be decided in favor of overturning Section 3 of DOMA. It is hoped that the administration has been looking at these rights agency by agency and is prepared to make decisions on how the government will deal with them. The president must be prepared to sign any executive orders that are needed to move forward on granting those rights. We have seen that the president has not been willing to sign the executive order barring job bias in federal contracting but it has to be the expectation of the LGBT community that we will not be forced to wait too long for the decisions on all these issues.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy said, “The Constitution’s guarantee of equality must at the very least mean that a bare congressional de­sire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot justify disparate treatment of that group.”

In the Proposition 8 case, the court denied standing and said the decision of the Ninth Circuit is vacated and remanded. Following the scenario in an amicus brief submitted by Dellinger, which was referenced by the justices during oral arguments, they limited that ruling to allowing gay marriage in California. They did not make a statement that gay marriage must be considered legal in all states. The result is that for the time being the LGBT community and our allies will have to continue fighting for our equal rights state by state. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here.” So within 30 days, same-sex couples will again be able to marry in California.

Today we have taken a huge step forward for equality and we continue the fight for our full civil and human rights knowing that we will win because we are on the right side of history.

27
Jun
2013

NY Times columnist to talk marriage

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

Frank Bruni will speak about the recent shift in public opinion on same-sex marriage in America. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Frank Bruni, New York Times’ first openly gay op-ed columnist, will speak about the recent shift in public sentiment on gay marriage in America.  The event takes place on Sept. 30 at 8 p.m. at Goucher College Kraushaar Auditorium, 1021 Dulaney Valley Rd. in Towson.

Bruni, Goucher’s fall 2013 Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Visiting Professor, has been an op-ed columnist for The New York Times since June 2011. He joined the paper in 1995, first working for the metropolitan desk. He and three colleagues won the George Polk Award that year for coverage of the child-abuse death of Elisa Izquierdo.

He later moved to the Washington bureau, covering Congress and George W. Bush’s presidential campaign and first year in office. He left Washington to serve as the Rome bureau chief from 2002 to 2004 and then became the Times’ chief restaurant critic from 2004 to 2009.

Bruni has consistently contributed to the Times’ Sunday magazine, and during two periods—most recently from 2009 to 2011—he was one of its staff writers. From 2010 to 2011, he additionally wrote a column on bars and drinking, called “The Tipsy Diaries.”

He has also written two New York Times best sellers: a memoir, “Born Round” (2009), and “Ambling Into History” (2003), a chronicle of George W. Bush’s campaign for the presidency, and he was the co-author of “A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church” (1993).

The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Visiting Professorship was created to bring distinguished scholars, teachers, and practitioners to Goucher’s campus to advance local and national dialogues on pressing issues of our time. Tickets are $10 general admission. Visit here for tickets or call 410-337-6333.

25
Sep
2013

College cancels gay marriage lecture

John Corvino, gay news, Washington Blade

Dr. John Corvino of Wayne State University in Detroit was to have spoken at the event. (Photo courtesy of johncorvino.com)

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—A Catholic college in Rhode Island has cancelled a lecture that a prominent same-sex marriage supporter had been scheduled to give on Thursday.

Hugh Lena, provost and senior vice president of Providence College, cited a 2004 statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in an e-mail the New York Times reported he sent on Sept. 21 that announced the cancellation of the event at which Dr. John Corvino of Wayne State University in Detroit was to have spoken.

“The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ statement that Lena referenced reads. “They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Rhode Island is among the 13 states and D.C. in which gays and lesbians can legally marry.

Lena announced his decision to cancel Corvino’s lecture two days after Jesuit journals across the world published an interview with Pope Francis in which he said the Catholic Church has grown “obsessed” with same-sex marriage and other social issues.

“Pope Francis, the Catholic Church’s new leader, has been justly celebrated for his welcoming tone towards gays and lesbians,” Corvino wrote on his website. “Notwithstanding my abrupt dis-invitation, I remain hope that Providence College may soon reflect that tone.”

25
Sep
2013

Hagel nomination controversial in LGBT community

Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama, White House, Secretary of Defense, Washington Blade, gay news

President Obama nominates Chuck Hagel and John Brenner to high-level administration positions (Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson)

President Obama officially announced on Monday he would nominate former Sen. Chuck Hagel for defense secretary, a move that has stirred controversy in the LGBT community.

Obama appeared with Hagel in the East Room of the White House to name the Nebraska Republican as his choice — calling him “the leader that our troops deserve” and praising him for his service as a U.S. senator and Vietnam veteran — in addition to nominating John Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

“Chuck Hagel’s leadership of our military would be historic,” Obama said. “He’d be the first person of enlisted rank to serve as Secretary of Defense, one of the few secretaries who have been wounded in war, and the first Vietnam veteran to lead the department.  As I saw during our visits together to Afghanistan and Iraq, in Chuck Hagel our troops see a decorated combat veteran of character and strength.”

Obama also alluded to outstanding work at the Pentagon on LGBT issues without enumerating any specific initiatives, saying the nation must move toward “continuing to ensure that our men and women in uniform can serve the country they love, no matter who they love.”

Hagel made no reference to LGBT issues during his remarks, but more generally said he was grateful to have another opportunity to serve the country as well as “men and women in uniform and their families.”

“These are people who give so much to this nation every day with such dignity and selflessness,” Hagel said. “This is particularly important at a time as we complete our mission in Afghanistan and support the troops and military families who have sacrificed so much over more than a decade of war.”

The news was met with varied reactions in the LGBT community — ranging from full support to outright opposition — based on Hagel’s anti-gay record and lingering inequities faced by LGBT service members.

First, there are the anti-gay remarks that Hagel made in 1998 about James Hormel, whom the senator referred to as “openly, aggressively gay” in remarks published in the Omaha World-Herald while questioning his ability to serve as a U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. A U.S. senator representing Nebraska from 1997 and 2009, Hagel also had a poor record on LGBT issues. He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didn’t cast a vote in 2006.

Just last month, Hagel delivered an apology to media outlets over his 1998 remarks, saying he backs open service and is “committed to LGBT military families.” Major LGBT groups like OutServe-SLDN and the Human Rights Campaign quickly accepted the apology.

But questions linger on outstanding LGBT issues at the Pentagon. Gay service members still aren’t afforded partner benefits offered to straight troops in the U.S. military  — such as joint duty assignments, issuance of military IDs, use of the commissary and family housing — which could be changed administratively at any time even with the Defense of Marriage Act in place. Pentagon officials have said they’ve been looking into this issue since the time “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted in September 2011, but no action has been taken. Another lingering issue is the prohibition on openly transgender service in the military — another problem that could be changed administratively.

Baldwin seeks answers on Hagel

Lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who after being sworn in last week as the first openly gay senator, will be faced with voting on whether to confirm Hagel, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Monday that she plans to “ask some tough questions, to give a thorough review and to be fair.”

“But I do want to speak with him … to see if his apology is sincere and sufficient,” Baldwin said. “I want to hear how he’s evolved on this issue in the last 14 years because the significance to the post to which he’s been nominated is the respect for now openly gay members of the military … We need to see [repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell] implemented successfully especially because the security of this nation is at stake.”

Another group seeking additional information from Hagel is the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, which issued a statement on Monday expressing concerns about the nomination.

Rea Carey, the Task Force’s executive director, called on Hagel to address how he’d advance LGBT issues at the Pentagon — as well as abortion rights for female service members — during his upcoming confirmation hearings before the Senate.

“We continue to express our concerns about the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense due to his poor track record on LGBT equality and reproductive rights,” Carey said. “Though Chuck Hagel has recently apologized for past anti-gay remarks, we expect him to fully explain his views during the confirmation process and what steps he intends to take as defense secretary to demonstrate his support for LGBT members of the military and their families.”

Another group that’s seeking a specific action from Hagel — after initially accepting the senator’s apology — is OutServe-SLDN, which issued a statement calling for a plan on partner benefits and non-discrimination policies.

Allyson Robinson, OutServe-SLDN’s executive director, said she wants Hagel to expand on what he means by being “committed to LGBT military families” by articulating policy plans on these issues.

“A commitment to support LGBT service members and their families must be a commitment to action,” Robinson said. “It’s past time to extend all benefits available to married same-sex military couples and families while the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is still on the books. It’s past time to put in place military equal opportunity and nondiscrimination protections so that all qualified Americans who wish to serve this nation in uniform may do so without fear of harassment or discrimination.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT group, has been relatively silent on the Hagel nomination after accepting Hagel’s apology a couple weeks ago and issued no public news statement on the day of the announcement.

Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications, said in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade that his organization is looking to hear more from Hagel during the confirmation hearings without offering an explicit position on the nomination.

“The next secretary of defense will be critical to the implementation of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal,” Sainz said. “We look forward to Senator Hagel’s testimony on how he intends to end the discriminatory behavior against gay and lesbian service members’ families.”

White House says Hagel values inclusion

The White House has responded to LGBT concerns about Hagel’s record through its chief advocate handling LGBT issues — Senior Adviser to the President Valerie Jarrett — who addressed the issue on Monday in a blog posting on the White House website.

“The President is fully committed to ensuring that all of our service members and military families are treated equally,” Jarrett writes. “He is confident that, as Secretary of Defense, Senator Hagel will ensure that all who serve the country we love are treated equally — no matter who they love.”

Noting that Hagel issued an apology for the remarks and expressed a commitment to LGBT military families, Jarrett said “one of the great successes of the LGBT civil rights movement” is providing people the opportunity to evolve on those issues.

“The President would not have chosen him unless he had every confidence that, working together, they will continue to ensure that our military and DOD civilian workforce are as welcoming, inclusive, and respectful as possible,” Jarrett concluded.

A White House spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether Hagel would lay out more specific plans during his confirmation process to address outstanding issues regarding benefits or non-discrimination policies.

Former gay Rep. Barney Frank appeared to have a change of heart on Hagel. In an interview with the Boston Globe on Monday, Frank reversed his earlier stated opposition to the former senator’s confirmation as defense secretary, saying he was initially hoping Obama wouldn’t nominate him.

“As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank was quoted as saying. “In terms of the policy stuff, if he would be rejected [by the Senate], it would be a setback for those things.”

Frank, who’s now vying for an appointment as interim U.S. senator of Massachusetts, also reportedly said, “With the attack coming out of the right, I hope he gets confirmed.” If appointed to the Senate seat, Frank would be in a position to vote on the confirmation.

Perhaps the strongest support in the LGBT community in favor of the nomination came from Rick Jacobs, chair of the California-based progressive grassroots organization known as the Courage Campaign, who declared his support for Hagel in a column for The Huffington Post.

“Chuck, like most Americans, has evolved has changed his views on homosexuality,” Jacobs said. “He gave his word that as DoD chief he supports the law, that openly gay and lesbian soldiers will be treated equally to ‘straight’ ones. Remember when the Commandant of the Marine Corps opposed repeal of ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] and then when it passed said the Marines would implement it better than any other branch?”

Speaking with the Blade, Jacobs also said he’d like to see Hagel address outstanding LGBT issues at the Pentagon during his upcoming confirmation hearings.

“It would be great to have that addressed as we move forward,” Jacobs said. “It’s a good idea; we should do that. The more we can discuss openly the policies and implementation of policies to make equal LGBT people in service, the better off we are.”

Jacobs told the Washington Blade he hadn’t spoken to any groups prior to writing his column urging him to come out in support of the Hagel nomination.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Log Cabin Republicans. For the second time, the organization on Monday published a full-page ad in a major newspaper opposing the Hagel nomination. The ad, which follows a similar one published in the New York Times last month, is titled “Chuck Hagel’s Record on Gay Rights” and offers a timeline of remarks on LGBT issues made by Hagel.

In addition to the 1998 anti-gay remarks against Hormel, the ad also notes Hagel has expressed support for DOMA and says in 2005, when a federal judge in Nebraska determined the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, Hagel opposed the decision, saying, ”I am hopeful the federal appeals court will recognize the rights of Nebraskans to determine their own laws governing marriage and reverse this decision.”

Gregory Angelo, Log Cabin’s interim executive director, said his organization continues to oppose Hagel after examining the “‘totality’ of his public record on gay rights.”

“Until his name surfaced as a potential nominee for Secretary of Defense, he has stood firmly and aggressively against not only gay marriage, but also against gay people in general,” Angelo said. “Log Cabin Republicans helped lead the charge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and is extremely invested in seeing that we don’t lose any ground due to a lack of sincere commitment to gay people and their families on the part of the incoming Defense Secretary.”

The move by Log Cabin raised questions about how a small organization can afford to buy full-page ads in major newspapers amid speculation that neo-conservative opponents of Hagel are influencing the group. Additionally, Log Cabin applied a different standard to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney by endorsing the candidate even though he backed a Federal Marriage Amendment.

Speaking to the Blade, Angelo said “there’s some potential” for more ads, but declined to comment on the costs of the ads, saying they’re “part of a larger communications effort” that has come from the board of directors. Angelo also denied that other groups had asked Log Cabin to run the ads, saying they came “exclusively from within Log Cabin Republicans.”

08
Jan
2013

Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense

I am not prepared to write off former Sen. Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense for comments he made years ago about former Ambassador James Hormel or issues related to the LGBT community. I am willing to accept his apology, which Ambassador Hormel has now accepted even if reluctantly, because Hagel will work for President Obama and I don’t believe the president would nominate anyone to this sensitive position who will not be supportive of our community.

I believe that the president understands that were Hagel to not promote or do anything to thwart the continued integration of gays and lesbians into the military there would be huge demonstrations not at the Pentagon but in front of the White House. It would be the president that the LGBT community would and should hold accountable.

I recently had to stymie a chuckle when reading the full-page ads that Log Cabin Republicans placed in a number of newspapers including the New York Times and the Washington Post opposing Hagel’s nomination. An organization that in 2012 endorsed the Romney/Ryan ticket for president is now claiming to be so upset about things Hagel said years ago is blatant hypocrisy. I have to wonder who paid for those ads and whether the donor was really trying to stop Hagel’s nomination for other reasons and only using Log Cabin as a vehicle to do so. It is interesting to see some in the LGBT community aligned with neocons and other Republican conservatives on this issue. I had a real belly laugh when reading right-wing columnist Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post say, “If Republicans had nervy firebrands like the late Senator Ted Kennedy, someone would rise up and declare, ‘Chuck Hagel’s America is a land in which gays would be forced back in the closet.’” These, of course, would be the same Republicans who in 2012 adopted and supported a party platform that basically would have accomplished just that.

Hagel is part of a dying breed of moderate Republicans. In 2002, he accused the Bush administration of a “cavalier approach” to the rest of the world. In a recent National Journal article on Hagel it stated he voted for the Iraq war resolution but insisted, “Actions in Iraq must come in context of an American-led, multilateral approach to disarmament not as a first case for a new American doctrine involving the preemptive use of force.” Hagel has said he is for talking to and trying to negotiate with the Iranians rather than having either the U.S. or Israel use military force to deal with them before all other options are exhausted. He voted for more than $40 billion of aid to Israel during his time in Congress but isn’t willing to give Israel a blank check or approve new settlements and aggression when they aren’t necessary.

He clearly shares many of the foreign policy positions of the administration. He shares the president’s view that we must realign our military and prepare for the kind of warfare we could face in the future, which is anathema to many of the neocons who have led us into war in the past.

One very interesting fact about Chuck Hagel is that he would be the first Secretary of Defense who actually volunteered for military service when he enlisted to fight in Vietnam — something that should stand him in good stead with our all-volunteer military. I know there will be a fight over this nomination and it is a fight the president has chosen to make. I support his right to choose the person he wants to lead the Pentagon and unless something new and disturbing is unearthed during the confirmation hearings agree with organizations like J Street and a large bipartisan group of individuals, including former Sens. Boren (Okla.), Hart (Colo.) and Kassebaum-Baker (Kan.), and others such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Thomas Carlucci, Brent Scowcroft and Paul Volcker, who agree that Hagel should be confirmed.

09
Jan
2013