Monday, May 31, 2010

Remembering Those who Fought and Died: Leonard Matlovich

In 1975, eighteen years before Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Sgt. Leonard Matlovich appeared on the cover of Time Magazine with the headline, "I Am a Homosexual". Although there had been other challenges to the military ban on gays and lesbians serving, Sgt. Matlovich was the first to draw national attention. 

Time followed the story of Matlovich's legal challenge to the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the armed forces. Matlovich lost, but the case did prompt a change in the classification of discharges under the policy from dishonorable to honorable discharge.
Matlovich was an early AIDS activist and died of complications on June 22, 1988. The marker at his grave site says, "When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."
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Presidential Proclamation: June is LGBT Pride Month

The White House released a statement on Friday proclaiming June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. In a repeat of last year's proclamation, the president recognized the contributions of LGBT Americans, saying, in part: 

"LGBT Americans have enriched and strengthened the fabric of our national life.  From business leaders and professors to athletes and first responders, LGBT individuals have achieved success and prominence in every discipline.  They are our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, and our friends and neighbors.  Across my Administration, openly LGBT employees are serving at every level.  Thanks to those who came before us    the brave men and women who marched, stood up to injustice, and brought change through acts of compassion or defiance    we have made enormous progress and continue to strive for a more perfect union."

Before we jump all over the president for what he hasn't done, and the promises he hasn't kept, let's step back, take a breath and remember what he has done.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law last year. This new law provides federal funding to local law enforcement for the investigation and prosecution of crimes against LGBT Americans based on hate. This is the first ever pro-LGBT legislation in U.S. history.

Renewal of the Ryan White CARE Act which continues funding for the care and treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS. Don't forget that many states, like Connecticut, South Carolina and Pennsylvania are cutting HIV/AIDS funds as they try to balance their budgets during these tough economic times.

The president also repealed Ronald Reagan's ban on entry into the U.S. of foreign travelers with HIV/AIDS and issued a memorandum to hospitals receiving federal funding (which is about 98% of them) extending the rights of patients to determine who will be allowed to see them in the hospital and who will be able to make medical decisions for them. Prior to this, only "immediate family" had these rights.

The presidential proclamation also mentions the creation by the Department of Health and Human Services of a National Resource Center for LGBT Elders.

Okay, before you jump all over me and remind me of all the promises that have been unkept and and how the administration has dragged it's feet on our issues, let me remind you that I have written about all of those things myself. Obama still has a long way to go and not a lot of time to get things done. But, as you can see from his history on our issues, he's been taking an incremental approach by starting with the smaller, easier initiatives and working his way up to the larger, more difficult ones.

Say what you want about the man, for better or worse, he has done more for our community than any other president and I don't think it's wrong to acknowledge that. That doesn't mean we shouldn't keep up the pressure to move forward more quickly and with as much or more determination. We have to keep watching congress and the president like a hawk and keep their feet to the fire.

The DADT compromise is far from perfect, but it's the only offer we've got. We have to keep making noise about it all summer at our Pride Festivals. Keep criticizing our leaders and demanding that they make it more fair. We have to let them know that they can no longer take our support for granted. We have to up the ante and remind them that their jobs are on the line this November and our votes, or lack of them, could make the difference in whether or not they keep their jobs.
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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo Stage Childish Hunger Strike

Yes, folks, I'm afraid to say it's true. Lt. Dan Choi has finally jumped the shark. The decorated military linguist who has made a 2nd career out of fighting for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell has proven that there is a limit to just how far you can push the envelope before you end up defeating your own purpose. Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo are on a hunger strike.

I was totally on board when he hijacked the HRC/Kathy Griffin DADT rally a couple of months ago and led a group of marchers to the White House, where he handcuffed himself to the fence and got arrested. Acts of nonviolent civil disobedience have been a staple in the struggle for civil rights since day one. It was about time someone was willing to put his ass on the line. I am one of those who believe that we need to work behind closed doors and out in the streets to achieve our goals.

When Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo did it again a couple of weeks later, I thought, "Well at least they're committed. Maybe it will help. Let's hope this doesn't turn into a case of overkill."

Then a couple of weeks ago Choi and Pietrangelo were joined by five other activists from GetEqual and did it again and I thought, "Okay, it's time to try something else guys. This is getting old." Little did I know that the something else these decorated vets would try, was going to be the political equivalent of a temper tantrum. 

It's been all over the queer blogosphere since Thursday night and even some mainstream press has picked up the story. In the hours after both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees voted in favor of the compromise legislation that would phase in an end to Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Choi and Pietrangelo announced they were going on a hunger strike until the president and congress institute a immediate, full and unequivocal repeal.

The peckish duo have three demands:

#1: End the Comprehensive Working Group "Study," which insults the dignity of all Americans.
#2: End "Don't Ask Don't Tell" discharges forever.
#3: Replace all discriminatory regulations in the military with a comprehensive non-discrimination policy.”


Queers all over Facebook and the Twitter-verse are going ape-shit with faux concern over the health and welfare of these two fame whores as if life on planet Earth depended on them having a nosh. Bottom line: Nobody in Washington, or with more than two synapses to rub together, gives a rat's ass about anyone on a hunger strike.

For the record, I absolutely agree that the compromise language has a lot of gaps, loopholes and strings attached. There is no time table for full repeal. There is no moratorium on repeals pending the final implementation. The legislation gives unconstitutional veto powers to Secretary of Defense Gates and Joint Chiefs Chair Adm. Mullen. Our LGBT representatives from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN and Servicemembers United (SU) all signed off on this bullshit legislation, effectively throwing us all under the bus.

Having said all of this, we need to support what could be the only chance we have for the next 15 to 20 years to repeal DADT with the caveat that these three LGBT organizations get their asses back to the halls of congress and the White House and fight to make this bill more fair -- and constitutional -- before it's too late.

To Lt. Choi and Capt. Pietrangello and those who support them, read a history book, or even a newspaper.

Times have changed since the days of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Those two civil rights pioneers used hunger strikes to draw attention to their causes, but since then, it's been done to death. Comedian/Activist Dick Gregory went on several hunger strikes from the 60's through the 80's to draw attention to various causes he worked for. After the first two, people stopped paying attention.

Last year Actress Mia Farrow went on a hunger strike to draw attention to the genocide taking place in Darfur. She vowed she would not eat until the U.S. government stepped in and put an end to the violence. She lasted 12 days, until her doctor put a stop to it. She got a little publicity, but the U.S. government -- and most Americans -- didn't give a shit. No troops were sent to Darfur.

The hunger strike is an ineffective tool in the struggle for civil rights. In order for people to give a shit about a hunger strike, they have to give a shit about you. Let's be honest about this, our government, especially our military, does not give a shit about the LGBT community. They have no vested interest in furthering our cause. We are not an industry that provides jobs. We are not an ethnic minority. We are not in very many positions of power. Many of us still hide who we are, so there's no way of knowing just how many of us there really are in this country.

The only reason anybody listens to us at all is because we won't shut up and go away. In fact, many in our government hoped that the AIDS epidemic would accomplish just that. But we are persistent. We are patient and we do not give up.

However, when your 3-year-old child throws a temper tantrum, you ignore him until he wears himself out. If it's in public, you pick him up, take him home and give him a time out. (Back in the day, you just spanked him.) And if your toddler refuses to eat, you send him to bed without any supper. At least these are things that most good parents do. You show him who's boss and punish him accordingly or else you end up with a spoiled brat on your hands. Which brings me back to Lt. Choi.

I heard Dan Choi speak at the National Equality March in Washington last fall. I have listened to many of his speeches and TV appearances both before and after the march and with every one, he gets more and more full of himself. He is starting to believe his own publicity and it shows in his increasing  arrogance.

Dan Choi has done a lot to call attention to the need to repeal DADT. Up until now I have defended his actions to a lot of mainstream activists and lobbyists who thought he and GetEqual were acting like spoiled brats. The problem with putting people on a pedestal is that they start to believe they belong there. We created this monster. I fully agree with Choi's list of demands, but his methods are uninspired, ineffective and immature. It's time to put this childishness aside and get back to the business of getting this legislation fixed.


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Friday, May 28, 2010

Comedian Mike Trainor Appearing at The Village Grill Tonight in Roanoke

Just to prove I can promote more than just the gay stuff, here's a plug for my cousin, comedian Mike Trainor, who will be appearing tonight in Roanoke at the Village Grill from 9pm - 11:30p.m. along with with his buddy, comic Dan Goodman.

The Village Grill is in Roanoke's historic Grandin Village, just around the corner from the Grandin Theater at 1802 Memorial Ave. The cover is just $5.

I'll be there lending my support to the one member of the clan (not klan) to figure out how to use the family smart-ass gene to make a living. Hope to see you all there.



Here's the promo from Mike's FaceBook page:
It's going to be a big night Roanoke! See you there! Call the Village Grill at (540) 767-0057 for reservations & info!

Mike Trainor, originally of West Orange, New Jersey was always a lifelong fan of comedy. Now he’s doing it: on stage, in print and on the tube.

Mike’s stand-up has been featured in Maxim Magazine. It was a spot that led to writing for College Humor.com as well as upsetting his mom.

In 2009 Trainor published his first book “101 Fat Things”, a compilation of jokes about his love of food.

Trainor can currently be seen all over the TruTV series “The Smoking Gun Presents” (Thursdays at 9 ET) making fun of the world’s dumbest criminals, drivers, competitions, partiers and anything else they come up with.

For two years Mike co-hosted and produced “Four Quotas” for Sirius Satellite Radio. Trainor decided to leave the show in the summer of 06, coincidentally at the exact moment it was canceled.

These days Trainor can be heard as a featured guest on the nationally syndicated Bob and Tom Show.

Mike lives in Astoria New York where he spends his free time sitting, eating and writing about himself in the third person.

Dan Goodman:

Creator of GhettoMyspace.net. Appearing in the upcoming film "Hell Cop". Currently rocking NYC. Hates stewed tomatoes. Loves girls who wear too much eye make up.
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Funding for Controversial Jet Engine Could Shoot Down DADT Repeal

I hate to be the one to rain on everyone's DADT repeal parade, but we're not out of the woods yet. The House and Senate Armed Services Committees both voted in favor of repealing the 17-year-old ban on open service, but we still have a long way to go before we can celebrate.

Repeal language is part of the Defense Authorization Bill (DAB), that would provide funding for the military for the next year. The legislation still has to go through the mark-up process and the house and senate versions have to be merged into one cohesive bill that will go to the president for his signature. Then we have to wait for the results of the Pentagon study and, hopefully, Obama, Gates and Mullen will all sign off on it. Then there will be a 60-day waiting period before implementation and nobody knows at this point what that will entail or how long it will take.

Assuming every step of the process goes our way, there is still a fly in the ointment that hasn't been discussed much. One of the numerous pet projects looking for funding in the DAB is a controversial and very expensive new jet engine that the president and the Pentagon say we don't need. The top Pentagon brass are urging the president to veto this bill if funding for two Joint Strike Fighter engines is included.

Politico.com reports:
...because the House defied President Obama's veto threat to hang onto funding for two Joint Strike Fighter engines, the situation is even stickier. With the engine money and don't ask don't tell, Obama is situated between a promise he's made to his most powerful Cabinet member and his liberal base of support on a landmark civil rights issue.

The Pentagon is aggressively pushing for a veto.

"We don't want nor need the extra engine, but this is just one step in a long journey and Secretary Gates is committed to staying engaged in this process the whole way, including if necessary ultimately recommending President Obama veto this legislation," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell after the vote.

So too is Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), who supports don’t ask don’t tell repeal but who fought to strip funding for the General Electric engine but who said he was encouraged by a strong vote on the amendment and the fact that the Senate Armed Services Committee did not include funding for the engine in its bill.

“I fully expect the President to follow through with his threatened veto of the Defense Authorization Act if the F-35 Extra Engine Program is in the final legislation,” Larson said.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Just In: Senate Armed Services Committee Approves DADT Repeal 16-12

I hate to do this, but I'm going to post the entire story from The Washington Blade. I see no reason to try to rewrite a story that's well written and full of so much detail.

I will say to those critics of this DADT repeal effort and the compromises that had to be made to get it done, that this is just the first step. We are lucky to be getting this far with the mid-term election season getting into full swing over the summer. There are going to be a lot of politicians taking a lot of heat for standing up for us and some will definitely lose their seats because they did the right thing.

Keep in mind that in the entire history of this country, no president has stood up for us the way this one has (albeit grudgingly) and no congress has been willing to fight for our rights -- ever.

I still think we have a long way to go and this compromise is far from perfect, but it's a solid step in the right direction. We still have the battle for ENDA to fight this summer. Right now DOMA repeal isn't even on anybody's radar, but we do have two federal challenges under way. A decision on the Prop 8 challenge in California is due in June.

From The Washington Blade:
The Senate Armed Services Committee took a significant step toward overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Thursday by voting in favor of an amendment that would include repeal as part of defense budget legislation, according to sources.

On Thursday, various LGBT groups issued statements saying the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16-12 in favor of attaching a repeal measure, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill.

The proceedings of the Senate Armed Services Committee were closed to the public and so couldn’t immediately be verified.

According to sources familiar with the deliberation, Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) voted in favor of the amendment. They had told media outlets earlier in the week they were planning to vote in the affirmative.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) voted against the measure as he had earlier told the Boston Globe.

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), who never made a public announcement indicating his position on the amendment, also voted in favor of the measure. Supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal were expecting him to vote “yes.”

The sole Democrat who voted against the amendment was Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.). He had earlier told media outlets he sees no need to preempt the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” study currently at the Pentagon by voting in favor of repeal at this time.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was the only Republican to vote in favor of repeal. Supporters of repeal were expecting her to be a “yes” vote on the amendment for some time.

While the Senate has taken action, the House has yet to attach similar language as part of its version of the defense budget legislation. The House is expected to take up the issue on the floor by Friday morning.

The legislative compromise adopted by the Senate committee would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” only after the Defense Department completes its study on the issue at the end of the year.

Additionally, the president and Pentagon leaders would have to certify that repeal won’t undermine military readiness — and 60 days would have to pass after this certification.

The measure also notably lacks the non-discrimination language for gay, lesbian and bisexual service members that was found in standalone versions of repeal legislation.

In a statement, Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the Senate committee approved “a historic roadmap” to open service.

Still, he cautioned gay, lesbian and bisexual service members against being open about their sexual orientation while serving in the armed forces.

“It is important for all gay and lesbian, active-duty service members, including the reserves and the national guard, to know they’re at risk,” Sarvis said. “They must continue to serve in silence under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that remains on the books.”

Sarvis said he’s hopeful Congress and the Pentagon would be able to finalize repeal by “no later than the first quarter of 2011.”

In another statement, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the importance of the Senate vote “cannot be overstated.”

“This is the beginning of the end of a shameful ban on open service by lesbian and gay troops that has weakened our national security,” Solmonese said. “The stars are aligning to finally restore honor and integrity to those who serve our country so selflessly.”

Solmonese said Americans recognize that the sexual orientation of service members doesn’t matter so long as they “get the job done.”

“Those who wish to preserve discrimination in our military will continue to fight this progress but we will be there every step of the way to ensure that qualified men and women are allowed to serve their country, regardless of sexual orientation,” he said.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, also commended the Senate committee for what he said was taking historic action to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“This initial victory today in the Senate Armed Services Committee is an historic first step forward in the drive to finally get the onerous ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law off the books forever,” Nicholson said. “All of us who have served under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and who have been impacted by this law will remember this day as the beginning of the end for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”
UPDATE:
10:00p.m. Just in via HRC Backstory
U.S. House Vote Spells Demise of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Moments ago the House of Representatives voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” paving the road to the end of the 17 year old law.  This historic action follows a vote for repeal in the Senate Armed Services Committee and is a tremendous step toward finally ending the ban on openly lesbian and gay service members.  It was the first vote ever in the U.S. House of Representatives to repeal the ban on open service.

Said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese: “Lawmakers today stood on the right side of history. This is a historic step to strengthen our armed forces and to restore honor and integrity to those who serve our country so selflessly.”
With successful House passage of the amendment, the final NDAA bill must be passed in both the House and Senate and the two versions reconciled before being sent to the President for his signature. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Penn. was the lead sponsor of the measure in the House and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., championed the amendment in the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier today.

Watch this moving speech on the House floor earlier tonight from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)

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Midnight Oil: "Beds Are Burning" (music video)

I got so caught up with writing Wednesday's ENDA Call to Action (please call your reps today if you haven't already!) that I totally forgot to post a New Wave Wednesday video. This video from Aussie band Midnight Oil came out in 1990, so it doesn't technically qualify, but it does have a New Wave vibe to it. I heard it in the car on the way to work yesterday and it sort of stuck in my head, so here it is.

"Beds Are Burning" became an anthem of sorts in Australia during the 80's and 90's for the movement to make reparations to the aboriginal people for the government's past actions, which included stealing their land, taking children from their parents and forcing them to live in government schools to learn the white man's ways and destroying their 40,000-year-old culture. Sound familiar, America?     

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Mrs Betty Bowers: "Gas, It's America's Crack" (video)

Deven Green as Mrs. Betty Bowers, America's Be...Image by feastoffun.com via Flickr

Leave it to Mrs. Betty Bowers, America's best Christian and most saved Baptist, to tell it like it is when it comes to our addiction to oil. Possibly NSFW due to some grown up language. Find more of Mrs. Bowers pearls of wisdom at BettyBowers.com.

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Senate has the votes to repeal DADT without Webb, could vote today.

The senate effort to repeal Don't Ask, Don''t Tell has picked up three more supporters making the bill's passage in the senate a virtual done deal and Senator Jim Webb's opposition to what's being called the Lieberman Compromise increasingly irrelevant.

The congressional newspaper Roll Call reported late last night that Ben Nelson (D-Ne.), Susan Collins (R-Me.) and Robert Byrd (D-WVa) have all expressed there support for adding the compromise language to the Defense Authorization Bill during Thursday's mark up of the bill that approves military funding for the next year.

Of the three recent converts, only Byrd gave conditional support. He wants to add an additional 60 days for review of the Pentagon study once it is complete in December. Byrd said in a statement on his website, “I did not want to blindly assent to repealing this law without giving the Congress an opportunity to re-examine the concerns of our Armed Forces and the manner in which they are being addressed.”

Meanwhile, here in Virginia, Sen. Jim Webb got off the fence this week and expressed his opposition to the compromise, saying on Tuesday, "If you look at what the White House said and you look at what Secretary Gates said, they both said they would prefer to go through the process that Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates announced in February. I don't see any reason to preempt that process."

What's missing from all of this is a time table for a halt to dismissals. There is no language providing for a moratorium until DADT is finally repealed and there is no language in the bill requiring a non-discrimination policy for the military. Once the policy is officially done away with, the Pentagon will be responsible for deciding it's own personnel policies.

The major issue for critics of the compromise is that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen are being granted what amounts to veto power. The two men given the task of conducting the Pentagon study on the effects of repeal, along with President Obama must sign off on the legislation before it takes effect, regardless of its passage in both the House and the Senate. This gives what some call unconstitutional authority to the unelected government officials.

What is especially disturbing, but not really surprising,  is that representatives from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and Servicemembers United were all present during Monday's negotiations and signed off on most, if not all, of the above conditions.

This has the activists at GetEqual threatening a hunger strike until dismissals are ended. There are obviously a lot of details to work out and we have to keep up the pressure on HRC and congress to get to work and hammer all of this out. But let's not forget, that if it doesn't happen now, we may have to wait years before we get another chance at repeal.


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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

CALL TO ACTION!: Call Virginia Congressmen Boucher and Nye and tell them pass ENDA with Trans Protection

With all the focus on Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal this week, let's not lose sight of the fact that we are also extremely close to getting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed as well. The question is whether protection for gender identity or expression will be stripped from the bill before it goes to a final vote.

I have it from a reliable source that there are some representatives in Washington who don't want their names on legislation that includes anti-discrimination protection for trans people, out of fear it will hurt their chances for re-election. For them, this is the only sticking point in getting ENDA passed. We cannot allow our trans brothers and sisters to be thrown under the bus!

Two such congressmen, Rick Boucher (D-Va.), from the very conservative 9th District in western and far southwestern Virginia (my home district, which includes Virginia Tech and Radford University) and Glenn Nye (D-Va.) from Virginia's 2nd District (Pat Robertson's Hampton Roads/Virginia Beach area) are considering proposing a motion to rescind, which is a procedure that allows legislation to be stripped of certain components after the final language has been approved.

Confused? It's sort of like getting an low insurance rate quote only to find out that your actual rate is higher after you sign up. It's nothing more than a classic "bait and switch" con game.

The trans-inclusive language has been part of ENDA since last year. There are some who didn't like it at the time, but we still had the votes to pass it, if the president and congress hadn't dragged their feet. Boucher and Nye and some others have begun to get nervous now that this legislation has been dragged out into the mid-term election season.

When I met with Rick Boucher's staff in his Pulaski, Virginia office last October, with two students from Virginia Tech, to ask for his support for ENDA, we were assured by his staff that Boucher would most likely vote in favor of it's passage. When I received a letter from Congressman Boucher (four months later) acknowledging the meeting, he assured me that he would, in fact, be voting in favor of ENDA's passage. At no time was there any mention by Boucher of not wanting to include gender identity or expression as a protected status.

That was before Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council started his anti-ENDA smear campaign with videos like this, that call ENDA "the end of religious liberty and free speech in America":


Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said earlier this year that he didn't include LGBT protection in his executive order of employment protection because the U.S. Constitution already provides such protection. Hello, Mr. Governor? WRONG!! That's why we need ENDA with full protection for all people, including LGBT Americans.

Call Rick Boucher and Glenn Nye today and tell them not to be swayed by lies from the religious right. Virginia has always prided itself as being a "right to work" state. No one should be fired from their job because of factors that don't effect their ability to to that job. Rick Boucher has a long pro-jobs track record in southwestern Virginia. With the economy in such a mess, people who have jobs should be able to keep them without fear of discrimination.

Call Congressman Boucher and Congressman Nye via the congressional switchboard in Washington at (202) 224-3121, (or at the numbers below) and tell them to pass the current version of ENDA that includes protection on the basis of gender expression or identity. This is no time to be throwing people under the bus.

Local numbers are:
Rick Boucher: Direct line in DC: (202) 225-3861, Pulaski, Va., (540) 980-3410, Abingdon, Va., (276)-628-1145, Big Stone Gap (276) 523-5450.

Glenn Nye: Direct Line in DC (202) 225-4215, Virginia Beach, (757) 326-6201, Accomac, Va., (757) 789-5092. 

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Viking Zombie Boyfriend, by Jeremy Rizza 05-25-10


Yay! More Paco!

Visit VikingZombieBoyfriend.com for past strips, character back stories and cool merchandise.

Click the image to enlarge. Posted with the permission of the artist.

Whats' going on in Queer Roanoke?

I wanted to take a few minutes to update you all on what's going on in the the Big Gay World of the Roanoke Valley, as brought to you by Roanoke Equality and the Stonewall Society.

First, I want to say how excited I am that Roanoke Equality has been so well received by our local LGBT/GLBT community. Every event we hold draws more support and participation. I am so psyched to be part of this new energy in the Roanoke Valley. Together we can make a difference for all LGBT Virginians.

We're starting to get some national attention. Our friend Terry McGuire from the Human Rights Campaign mentioned us in his blog entry after our joint DADT repeal effort that featured the film, "Ask Not" and a discussion group. Terry's post was picked up by Pink Banana World. See the link at the bottom of this post.

Frank House and I are currently in the midst of planning the 2nd Annual Rally for GLBT Equality, scheduled for Saturday, June 26th, from 11a.m. to 12 noon. We're currently in the process of rounding up some exciting speakers and GBLT musicians to perform. I want to make it clear that this is not a replacement or competitor for Pride. We have asked the Pride Committee to join us in this event. We are currently waiting for their response. They have been so supportive of our efforts. We could not do what we do without them.

This is a political rally intended to celebrate the legacy of Stonewall and re-energize out community. The first "pride parades" were protest marches. It's time we got back to our roots and made some noise.

There is so much going on in Virginia with our homophobic governor and his henchman, Ken Cuccinelli. They have shown the world just how backwards Virginia is. It's time for us to stand up to state-sponsored bigotry and demand our God-given rights! Visit the FaceBook event page for the latest information.


The rally is taking place during the same weekend as the Pride in the Arts International GLBT Film Festival,
brought to you by The Stonewall Society, founded by my good friend Len Rogers. This three-day event is taking place at the Shadowbox Cinema, 22 Kirk Ave. in Roanoke, from Friday, June 25th through Sunday evening June 27th. This is the first GLBT Film Festival ever held in Roanoke. Please turn out to show your support for your community and see some great independent films written, directed and produced by GLBT film makers. Go here for more information and advance ticket sales information. 

As I said, there is a new energy in Roanoke's queer community. If you always thought things would never change for us in Virginia, think again. Change can only come when the people demand it. Join us this summer for these and other amazing events. Stay tuned for more info as developments unfold.
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Monday, May 24, 2010

Breaking: White House Approves Compromise on DADT Repeal

The White House has released a statement agreeing to a compromise on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, that could, in fact see legislation passed before the end on the year, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi told an audience over the weekend at an Equality California event celebrating Harvey Milk Day.

Today senators Carl Levin, of Michigan, Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut and Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania wrote a letter to the president proposing what has been called "Delayed Implementation". The legislation would repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell this year, but not go into effect until after the Pentagon's working group completes its study of the effects of repeal. The letter reads, in part:
"Given the important efforts of the working group, we have developed a legislative proposal for consideration by the House and Senate that puts a process in place to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' once the working group has completed its review and you, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs certify that repeal can be achieved consistent with the military's standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention.
 The trio asked for feedback, saying, "We appreciate the input you and the Pentagon have provided throughout this process and request the Administration's official views on our legislative proposal."

The Administration wasted no time replying to the proposal. Peter Orszag, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote the response saying, "The Administration is of the view that the proposed amendment meets the concerns raised by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff." Orszag continued, saying that ideally the Pentagon's review should be completed before legislatiuve action takes place, but "the Administration understands that Congress has chosen to move forward with legislation now..."

In other words, Gates ans Mullen, who stated unequivocally back in February that they are in favor of repeal, but quickly put a stop to any talk of a moratorium on discharges, have the final say on all of this. Even of we get repeal language into the Defense Authorization Bill and get it approved by both the house and the senate and the president wants to sign it, Mullen and Gates could get cold feet and kill the whole deal. Anybody got a Rolaid?

Keep your fingers crossed and keep up the pressure on congress.

7:30 am, 5-25-10, UPDATE: According to some reports, a vote could come as early as Thursday. Call your representatives today at (202) 224-3121 and tell them to support this measure. It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing.

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Before Harvey Milk, there was Frank Kameny

With all the hoopla surrounding the celebration of Harvey Milk Day in California and cities around the country and the 80th birthday of the slain LGBT rights leader, it's gone unnoticed that our community still has one of our civil rights pioneers alive and well in the person of Mattachine Society founder Frank Kameny, who celebrated his 85th birthday on May 21st.

Kameny was fired from his State Department job in 1957 as a security risk when it became known that he was gay. As one of the founding members of the Mattachine Society, he led the successful fight to overturn the ban on employment for gays and lesbians at the agency that is now headed by Hillary Clinton. Kameny is seen in this photo picketing the White House. He is the second in line. Kameny's slogan "Gay is Good" became the mantra of the early gay rights movement.

The Mattachine members believed that by dressing conservatively and being respectful, they could show the world that homosexuals were not threatening. It was not until Stonewall that the LGBT rights movement became more radical and in-your-face. You can read more about the life and legacy of Frank Kameny at TheKamenyPapers.com.

The following video interview with Kameny at his 85th birthday party comes to us courtesy of The Washington Blade. Kameny has some interesting things to say about the current state of the movement, Lt. Dan Choi and President Obama. There's nothing wrong with your ears or your PC/Mac. The audio goes from stereo to mono in the clip.

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Pelosi: "DADT will be a memory by Christmas." (Video)

Yes, it sounds like a broken record. We've heard this all before from our elected officials. We've been getting mixed messages from the White House on Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) repeal for the past year and a half.  Does it have any more weight this time around? Possibly.

At Equality California's Harvey Milk Day celebrations over the weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi discussed the the frustration felt by the LGBT community and her commitment to passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and overturning The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and DADT. Pelosi told her audience, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell will be a memory by Christmas."

If any of these measures is going to be moved forward this year, it's going to take strong leadership in congress. I have no doubt that Nancy Pelosi is on our side. What remains to be seen is whether she still has the clout to gather enough support in congress. 

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

UPDATE: Couple Suspected in Death of Elderly Gay Roanoke Man Arrested in SC


Roanoke's WDBJ-7 reported yesterday that the married couple suspected in the beating death of 80-year-old Harold Markham were apprehended in South Carolina on Friday. Justin and Meghan Musser who were tenants in Markham's home are facing one count each on the charge of murder when they are returned to Roanoke for arraignment.

Markham was a retired barber who made extra money giving haircuts in his Dale Ave. home. He was also an employee of Video World, an adult video store on Williamson Road. What none of the local news services has mentioned, however, is that Harold Markham was gay. Initial reports do not suggest that his brutal murder was a hate crime. My sources tell me that the Mussers are known crystal meth users and that this crime was most likely drug related.

The Roanoke Times story on Friday did mention where Mr. Markham worked, perhaps because of the hint of salaciousness it brought to the story. But leaving out the fact that Harold Markham was gay is demeaning to the memory of a man who was part of Roanoke's LGBT community for 80 years. I'll give the Roanoke Times the benefit of the doubt and say that perhaps they just didn't dig deep enough to find out more about Markham's life. I prefer to believe that the reporter wasn't a homophobe, just lazy.

Harold Markham was one of the last remnants of the pre-Stonewall generation. He was someone who grew up at a time when there were no Pride Parades, no LGBT Marches on Washington and no way for LGBT people to live their lives openly. All of this has been completely ignored by all of our local media.

The plight of gay seniors in a culture that prizes youth and beauty has also been ignored, not just by the media, but by us. Markham was an uncomfortable reminder to the LGBT community that, God willing, we will all grow old and we will do so without the Social Security survivor benefits that heterosexual widows and widowers are entitled to. If we are fortunate enough to be able to afford a senior living community or retirement facility, we may be forced back into the closet, because very few of these places are queer-friendly, nor are they prepared to care for geriatrics living with HIV/AIDS or even recognize our relationships.

Harold Markham also reminds us of a side of our community that we are embarrassed to admit exists, the Bookstore Culture. Everyone from the dog catcher to the corporate executive visits the the adult bookstores for a quickie now and then, but no one wants to admit it. To those people Harold Markham was just the guy behind the counter, but he was also a human being and deserves to be remembered with dignity and respect.

It is difficult enough to get Roanoke's mainstream media to cover our stories. Most of them don't even bother to cover Pride any more. So it's up to us to tell our own stories, to seek them out and listen to them.  The most important lesson we can draw from this tragedy is, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Harvey Milk Day 2010: Cleve Jones reflects on the slain LGBT rights leader (video)


Although California is the only state to celebrate Harvey Milk Day, which marks the birthday of the slain civil rights leader, Milk's legacy is being remembered by activists in cities across the country this week. Equality Across America's Cleve Jones, the driving force behind last year's National Equality March for LGBT Rights, interned with Milk in the months before his death. Jones reflects on his friend and mentor in this video by USA Today. Harvey Milk would have been 80 years old on Saturday.

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Couple Sought in Murder of Elderly Gay Roanoke Man

Roanoke City Police are searching for a young married couple suspected in the brutal beating death of 80-year-old Harold Markham in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The couple had been tenants of Markham's, who made a modest living by giving $4.00 haircuts in his home and working six nights a week at Video World on Williamson Rd.

Neighbors called 911 after overhearing an argument between Markham and 23-year-old Justin Musser and his wife Meghan, 20. The Mussers wanted to borrow Markham's car.

The Roanoke Times reports:
Markham died at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital on Tuesday after what neighbors described as a fierce beating by his two tenants, one of whom emerged from the house laughing and smiling, said neighbor Donnie Duncan, 21, who said he heard the assault begin and ran to tell his mother to call the police.

"We killed the old man," gloated the tenant, according to Duncan.

The boarders, husband and wife Justin Lyn Musser, 23, and Meghan Melissa Musser, 20, escaped after fighting with each other in the street outside the house. Police are searching for them with arrest warrants charging them with murder. The Mussers had lived with Markham for about a month, neighbors said.

Detectives thought Markham's death was "suspicious," and determined it was a homicide after an autopsy, police spokeswoman Aisha Johnson said.
According to the story a neighbor stopped by at about 1:00 a.m. Tuesday morning to drop off a pack of cigarettes when he heard Markham yelling, "Stop! Stop or I'll call the police!" The neighbor ran home and told his mother to call 911.

According to witnesses, the Musser's laughed about the killing and fought with each other in the street afterward. Police arrived after the Musser's had left the scene. Read the full story here.

This tragedy underscores the plight of elderly LGBT people who often have no family or other support systems. Without the benefits of marriage and children and no Social Security survivor benefits, queer seniors often live in poverty and must work well past retirement age and take in boarders. This is a call to action for all of us to take responsibility for the welfare of the senior members of our community. 
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Thursday, May 20, 2010

40 Years Ago Today: "What's Going On?" by Marvin Gay (music video)

It was forty years ago today that Marvin Gaye released his classic hit "What's Going On?". The R&B star's music had come to reflect the growing unease among America's youth with the political status quo. The country was engaged in an unpopular and seemingly unending war in Viet Nam.

Racial tension was at an all-time high in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination. Republican president Richard Nixon was abusing his executive powers. The air and water were made toxic by unchecked industrial pollution.

Celebrate the life and spirit of Marvin Gaye, Dr. King and all the civil rights leaders of of past by calling your elected officials today to ask them to move forward on passing ENDA and repealing DADT. Call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 today.

              
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International: Aussie Minister Quits over Gay Sex Club Scandal

Back in March rabidly anti-gay California Senator Roy Ashburn, made international headlines for his arrest on a DUI charge after a visit to a gay sex club. Then two weeks ago it was all about the anti-gay advocate George Rekers getting his bag handled by a gay escort/travel companion. Well, it's gratifying to know that political gay sex scandals aren't limited to the good old USA.

From the land down under comes this report about a minister of parliament (MP) who got caught leaving a gay sex club. Apparently the scandal here is not that married-with-children Transport Minister David Campbell was at the club called Ken's at Kensington (NSFW) for two hours, but that he drove his official ministry vehicle there.

According to the club's website, for $22 guests have access to a pool, sauna, spa, steam, gym and a lounge. Don't you just love the more evolved view of sex that the Aussies have? It would have been perfectly okay for closet case Campbell to be in a gay sex club if he had just used his own car to get there.

MP Campbell was under surveillance by a local news crew due in part to his unexplained absence during a major highway traffic management technical meltdown in which hundreds of commuters were stranded for hours in a giant traffic jam.

Campbell ran for office as a "family values" conservative. His resignation was immediately accepted Thursday night. Campbell released the following statement:

“I have resigned as Minister for Transport and Roads for personal reasons, not for any reasons relating to my Ministerial duties,” Mr Campbell said in a statement. “I apologise to my wife, family, colleagues, staff and the community for letting them down. This will be a very difficult time for my family and friends and I ask for their privacy to be respected.”
Read the full story with video here.
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GetEqual Protest on Capitol Hill Today at Noon over Lack of Movement on ENDA

GetEqual the direct action LGBT rights group announced yesterday via press release that they will be staging a protest on Capitol Hill today calling on congress to move forward and vote on the much delayed Employment Non-Discrimination Act. ENDA, which would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBT people in the workplace has suffered setback after setback, even though there appears to be enough support in Washington to pass it.

The clock is counting down on the current legislative session. There are less than 45 days left before congress adjourns for the mid-term election season in November.

GetEqual posted this statement on their website:
“We’ve heard all we can stand to hear from leaders in Congress, they promised a vote this calendar year and we expect them to honor their word,” said Robin McGhee, co-founder of GetEQUAL. “As the window continues to slowly close on available legislative calendar dates to vote on ENDA in the House and in the Senate, we will continue to hold Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid accountable for the direct promise they made to the LGBT community. Our community has done the work to lobby and educate members of Congress on the need for a fully inclusive ENDA and now is the time to stop the talking and start the voting.”

The picketing is scheduled to last for two hours from 12p - 2pm  near the Library of Congress, at the intersection of Independence Ave. SE and 1st St. SE. If you're in DC today and can lend your support to the effort, please be there.

GetEqual is responsible for the Don't Ask, Don't Tell protests where Lt. Dan Choi and others chained themselves to the White House fence and for staging sit-ins at the district offices House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. John McCaine.
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