“Getting a Top Secret Security Clearance”–Segueing into “Stories from the Frontline”–SLDN’s New Push To Get DADT Repealed

How much money the Air Force had spent on my training by the time I got my Top Secret Security Clearance had to have been a large sum.  After all, there had been 6 weeks of basic training, almost 9 months of full-time language instruction, and several months of technical training.  Even more training was yet to come after I received the clearance, before I went on to doing “real work.”

The military started the clearance process in San Antonio while I was still in basic training after they had decided what field I was going into.  I had to fill out a form that asked for every place I had ever lived, names of people who could verify that, and a lot of other details that I was hard-pressed to remember.  Family members and other acquaintances back home told me later that “some government guy” had been out to check on me, and they had had to give the names of other people who knew me.  I’d finished college when I went into the A.F. and had summer jobs, but I hadn’t even gotten a traffic ticket yet; my rural existence and fairly controlled upbringing hadn’t given me many opportunities to stray from the straight and narrow.

More than a year after the process started, I was called to personnel to finalize the process and be given my clearance.  As I remember it now, it felt a bit like an interrogation, but, in reality, it probably wasn’t much more than a clerk–I say “clerk”–but perhaps on second thought, it was an officer–asking a number of questions and checking them off on a form.   One of the questions was about “homosexuality”.   I don’t remember if it was the direct question, “Are you a homosexual?” or something a bit different.  The fact is, though certainly thoughts along those lines had been in my head, my life experiences up to that point weren’t broad enough to answer that question any other way than with a “no”.

I learned later that the military’s position then was when it came to military intelligence a “homosexual” was a liability, because if that person were captured by the enemy and the enemy found out he was a “homosexual”, they could use that as a way of getting whatever secret information out of him.  That’s pretty laughable in and of itself, because most gay military (or any other) men or women, especially back then, had already had a lot of experience at keeping secrets.  How were they going to find out anyway?  Drag some hot guy out in front of him and see how he reacted?  I mean if they were dragging out hot guys to get gay guys to spill the beans, couldn’t they do the same for straight guys by using hot women?   (These days they always want to drag out the scary shower story, but I’ll get into that another time.)

So that was before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”” and I can say, “They asked.”

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” really is a dinosaur and needs to be repealed.  I’m not a big activist, but I want to help and get others to be aware of what’s happening.  Service Members Legal Defense Network is pushing to get the President to honor his word and trying to get Congress busy and repeal DADT this year.  Read the following post from their website.  I urge you to act and contact your representatives and senators.  You can find their phone numbers here.

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Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama

“Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama” is a new media campaign launched to underscore the urgent need for congressional action and presidential leadership at this critical point in the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). Every weekday morning as we approach the markup of the Defense Authorization bill in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, SLDN and a coalition of voices supporting repeal, will share an open letter to the President from a person impacted by this discriminatory law.  We are urging the President to include repeal in the Administration’s defense budget recommendations, but also to voice his support as we work to muster the 15 critical votes needed on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include repeal.  The Defense Authorization bill represents the best legislative vehicle to bring repeal to the president’s desk.  It also was the same vehicle used to pass DADT in 1993.  By working together, we can help build momentum to get the votes!  We ask that you forward and post these personal stories.


April 26, 2010

President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

If you end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), I’d re-enlist the day you sign repeal into law.

For thirteen years, I served in the United States Air Force where I attained the rank of major before I was discharged under DADT.

As the Senate Armed Services Committee considers including repeal in the Defense Authorization bill, we’re very close — just two or three votes — to passing repeal in committee. I ask for you to voice your support to put us over the top.

I come from a family with a rich legacy of military service.  My father is a West Point graduate who taught chemistry at the Air Force Academy, flew helicopters in Vietnam, and ultimately retired as a senior officer from the Air Force.  One of my uncles retired as a Master Gunnery Sergeant from the Marine Corps, with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.  Another uncle served in the Army in Korea.

Growing up, I didn’t really know what civilians did, I just knew I would follow in my father’s footsteps and become a military officer.

I joined Air Force ROTC in 1988 and was awarded a scholarship.  I earned my jump wings in 1991.  In 1992, I graduated from ROTC in the top 10% of all graduates nationwide.  In 1993, I went on active duty, just as DADT was becoming a law.

Stationed in Oklahoma, I was named officer of the year for my unit of nearly 1,000 people.  Later, I was one of six officers selected from the entire Air force to attend Professional Military Education at Quantico, Virginia.

During my career, I deployed to the Middle East four times.  In my last deployment, I led a team of nearly 200 men and women to operate and maintain the systems used to control the air space over Iraq.  We came under daily mortar attacks, one of which struck one of my Airmen and also caused significant damage to our equipment.  Towards the end of this deployment to Iraq, I was named one of the top officers in my career field for the entire Air Force.

In the stress of a war zone, the Air Force authorized us to use our work email accounts for “personal or morale purposes” because private email accounts were blocked for security.

Shortly after I left Iraq — during a routine search of my computer files — someone found that my “morale” was supported by the person I loved — a man.

The email — our modern day letter home — was forwarded to my commander.

I was relieved of my duties, my security clearance was suspended and part of my pay was terminated.

In my discharge proceeding, several of my former troops wrote character reference letters for me, including one of my squadron commanders. Their letters expressed their respect for me as an officer, their hope to have me back on the job and their shock at how the Air Force was treating me.

Approximately a year after I was relieved of my duties, my Wing Commander recommended I be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, even though the Air Force was actively pursuing my discharge.

But instead, after 16 months, I was given a police escort off the base as if I were a common criminal or a threat to national security.  The severance pay I received was half of what it would have been had I been separated for any other reason.

Despite this treatment, my greatest desire is still to return to active duty as an officer and leader in the United States Air Force, protecting the freedoms of a nation that I love; freedoms that I myself was not allowed to enjoy while serving in the military.

Mr. President, I want to serve.  Please fulfill your promise to repeal DADT and give me that chance.

Thank you,

Major Mike Almy

United States Air Force

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View from the Suburbs: Spring Blooms and Washington Protests

"We made it through the winter!"

It’s great to have a free day, especially when it’s a beautiful, bright early spring one.  I’ve already mowed the back yard and weeded where it was needed.  Snapdragons and yellow lilies are already blooming.  These were in some of the pots that I dragged back and forth into the garage over the past few months, when we had such an unusual number of nights (and days) below freezing.  These bright beauties seemed determined to show off even after just a short period of days of warmer weather.

Since I moved out into my house a few months ago, I have become much mellower.  The yardwork and other household tasks keep my hands and mind busy.  Of course, work itself, along with the commute that gets me there, takes up a good portion of my week days.  That’s why I haven’t been writing here as much as when I lived in my apartment much closer to work.

I still keep up with what’s going on in “my world”.  I’m sure a lot of people who hit on my blog are interested in the same topics as I am.  If you like what you see, you can click onto what’s happening in the gay news, local Houston news and weather, and news about my home state, Kansas.  Just slide down to the side bars and you’ll find what I’m reading.  My favorites are: Towleroad, The Advocate, Pink News, and dosmanzanas (if you read Spanish).  I also take a look at chron.com and Kansas.com for local news in Houston and Kansas, and cnn.com and msnbc.com for U.S.  For world news, I often read abc.es and latercera.cl (again both are in Spanish). ( I mentioned before that I had been an Arab linguist in the Air Force. That was a long time ago, and the vocabulary I used most of the time was pretty specific, so through disuse over the years, I’ve pretty much lost my Arabic, but I studied Spanish in high school, college, and elsewhere, so even though my speaking is rusty, I still read most of what’s in the newspaper fairly well.)

And don’t let me forget, it’s March Madness, and I definitely have to keep up with the games, especially since both K-State and KU are in it.  (Both won in the first round.  I’m doing pretty lousy with my picks in the pool at outsports.

So speaking of linguists, Air Force, and gay news, even with all my yardwork and other tasks, I’ve been trying to keep up with what’s been happening to Lt. Dan Choi and Capt. Jim Pietrangelo, who were arrested during a protest against DADT (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) yesterday, after they handcuffed themselves to the White House fence.  At the moment, it seems that nobody even knows their whereabouts, even though it was reported that they were to be arraigned today in a court in Washington, D.C.  Check Americablog and Towleroad for updates.  That’s what I’ll be doing.

Now, it looks like the sun is gone, and it might rain, so I’d better head out and put the lawnmower and extension cords back into garage.

“Did you learn to be a bigot or were you just born that way?”–One of the Best Lines from the Speeches at the National Equality March in Washington

The crowds at the National Equality March in Washington, D.C.

The crowds at the National Equality March in Washington, D.C.

I wish I could give credit for the quote in the title for this post, but it was given by one of the speakers at the National Equality March for LGBT rights, that’s taking place today in Washington, D.C.  Between checking out the NFL scores, I couldn’t find anything on CNN or MSNBC that showed the event.  Then with a mistaken click, there it was, right on C-Span.

I think going to the march would have been a great experience, but like so many other people, the cost of time and money just seemed too prohibitive.  Watching the speakers, though, on TV has been heart-stirring.  When I clicked on C-Span, actress Cynthia Nixon was speaking, and she, in turn, introduced, Judy Shepard, mother of murdered Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard.  A number of lesser-known local and state officials were just as inspiring, especially an openly-gay state senator from Utah.  (I’ll have find out more about him later.)  Lt. Dan Choi, the Arab linguist, who was kicked out of the Army because of DADT, and Lady Gaga, the pop diva, exemplify the range and demeanor of the speakers, but both demanding that President Obama take action on his promises.

Lt. Dan Choi, Army Arab linguist, who was kicked out of the military because of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Lt. Dan Choi, Army Arab linguist, who was kicked out of the military because of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Maybe watching from my comfortable sofa isn’t the same as being part of the multitudes of participants there in D.C., but still I could feel the emotion of the event.  It gives me hope that change will happen.  But just like what people are asking of Obama, there has to be action, not just words.

Pop singer, Lady Gaga, speaking at the National Equality March and asking President Obama to take action.

Pop singer, Lady Gaga, speaking at the National Equality March and asking President Obama to take action.

I’m starting by writing to my conservative congressman.  It may not be worth it; I’ve done it before, and somehow his people now think I’m a republican.

Gays, Iranians: Both Must Continue To Push To Achieve Rights

Two bigissues in the news: the ramifications of the elections in Iran and equal rights for gay people in the U.S. These may not be on some people’s hottest news items, but for me they are.

I can give only my perspective on them, but actually, they seem to have quite a bit in common despite taking place half a world apart.

First, they both concern people’s equal rights: in Iran, that every person’s vote counts no matter whom the candidate was that he or she voted for; and here, in the U.S., that each person has the right to pursue whatever job or establish a marriage without discrimination no matter what his or her sexual orientation is.

There is another obvious similarity: “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Because the people are protesting so adamantly, things are going to change in Iran even if the same government stays in power. The current leaders know that there are just too many people who are demanding change.

The same is true in the case of gay equality here. Finally, because so many people reacted to the lack of any action on gay issues as Obama had promised to do in his presidential bid, not to mention the derogatory, demeaning language put forth by the Department of Justice last week, the President today gave some–though minimal–benefits to some federal employees. He also mentioned that he was in favor of getting rid of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA); however, he did not say anything about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT).

The key in both of these countries is that those in power do not make changes on their own. In one way or another they have to be pushed by the people, and in both of these situations, they should and must be pushed hard. In both situations, the people will have to continue to let their voices heard in order to get the results that they want.

When It Comes to Gays in the Military, Many “Developing” Countries Are Forward-Thinking, While the U.S. Continues To Discharge Highly Qualified Service Members

Growing up, I always saw my country as the one which was the most inventive, the most progressive, the one with the most forward-looking people. I mean aren’t we the country that put the first men on the moon, the country that fought in wars so other people could live in freedom?

What I see now is a country that has so many people that are not only afraid of being on the cutting-edge in all aspects, whether in science and medicine (think stem cell research), inventions (think new forms of energy), or social progress (think equal rights), but also people who want to live in the past, rather than help move the country forward.

south-americaI’m really amazed when I see what is happening in some “so-called” third-world, or developing, countries when it comes to equal rights, especially in terms of gays in the military. While President Obama has been waffling on his campaign promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, President Tabaré Vázquez of the South American country of Uruguay announced that his country would no longer deny entrance into their armed forces to someone who is gay. In a meeting with Vazquez, the President of the neighboring country of Paraguay, Fernando Lugo, agreed, saying his country will follow suit because Paraguay does not discriminate in any manner, including on the basis of religion or sexual orientation.

Additionally from South America comes the news of the first same-sex couple to receive spousal benefits through the Armed Forces. Based on the decision of the Constitutional Court (Supreme Court) of Colombia, the gay couple of Fabián Chibcha Romero and Javier Osorio will be able to take advantage of these benefits because one of them is a member of the Public Forces (includes both the military and civil police). After processing their Union Marital de Hecho (which formalizes common law marriages after two years of cohabitation for both heterosexual and homosexual couples), Romero and Osorio sought the spousal benefits and were the first same-sex couple to be granted them based on military membership.

However, here in the U.S. even with the change to a new administration, valuable members of the military are still being drummed out based on their sexuality.

Lt. Dan Choi, discharged Arab Linguist

Lt. Dan Choi, discharged Arab Linguist

Less than two weeks ago, the U.S. Army told Lt. Dan Choi, a member of the New York National Guard, that he would be dismissed for being gay. Choi is a graduate of West Point, and an Arab linguist recently returned from Iraq.

Today, the Service Members Legal Defense Network said the the Pentagon is ready to kick out another highly-skilled, veteran service member for being gay. SLDN says the U.S. Air Force is about to discharge fighter pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Victor J. Fehrenbach, after 18 years of service to his country. Among his long list of accolades is that he was especially selected to fly sorties over the U.S. capital after the 9/ll attacks. (I’m not going to do a “cut and paste”; read more about Fehrenbach’s illustrious career here and watch the eye-opening interview and report from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show.)

It is really a sad situation that we have in this country when we are ready to kick people who have given so much of themselves for their country out of the military just because of their sexuality. Is this what kind of country we are? One that judges people based on antiquated social mores? Are we a country that would rather let some people’s bigotry get in the way of having able-bodied and well-qualified service members protecting our country?

I don’t get it. Our forefathers came to this land with the idea of making a better life based on the principles of individual freedom and strove to be the best. They and their descendants were creative and worked to invent the best and newest, whatever that might be.

Now we have become a country of too many stick-in-the-muds. They only want to hide themselves in their “moral values” because, in reality, they are scared of the future. How did we ever get so many of these who are so filled with their own self-interest–yes, really these political and religious conservatives are really very selfish people; though, they would claim otherwise–that they cannot see that this country has to be progressive and future-thinking in order to be the country that we used to be.

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act Would Not Stop Anyone’s Religious Free Speech; Read the Bill, Then Shut Up!

hate-crimeFirst of all, I can’t say I am whole-heartedly in favor of the hate crimes bill in Congress. For my tax dollars spent on social issues of this kind, I’d much rather see Congress, first, get rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) and the “Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The bill, which if enacted, would be called the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. (Click to the bill from the Library of Congress. Read it; it’s just one page.) After reading it for myself, I’m getting sick of all the christian whiners all over the net crying that they are going to lose their ability to spew out hate. The bill does basically these things:

  • Gives the necessity for having such laws
  • Defines what hate crimes are
  • Says the support, both financial and otherwise, can be given to state and local jurisdictions, especially when the crime involves more than one state or in rural areas, basically in the form of grants
  • Gives more specifics on what hate crimes are (those involve bodily injury and death)
  • Explains in what situations the federal government can get involved
  • Explains what evidence is admissible
  • Explains that the Act follows the Constitution, which gives free speech.

In fact, the bill directly stipulates that speech, including religious speech, is still protected; read from Section 10:

    • (3) CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to prohibit any constitutionally protected speech, expressive conduct or activities (regardless of whether compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief), including the exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment and peaceful picketing or demonstration. The Constitution does not protect speech, conduct or activities consisting of planning for, conspiring to commit, or committing an act of violence.
    • (4) FREE EXPRESSION- Nothing in this Act shall be construed to allow prosecution based solely upon an individual’s expression of racial, religious, political, or other beliefs or solely upon an individual’s membership in a group advocating or espousing such beliefs.

If someone says that his religious speech will be limited because of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, he hasn’t read it, or he is just lying and trying to stir things up for others who won’t bother to read it.

Hate Crimes Legislation vs. Marriage Equality

Appalled is the only way to describe my reaction yesterday when I saw the C-Span clip of Virgina Foxx, the Republican Congresswoman of North Carolina’s Fifth District during the debate of the hate crime legislation. This former college president and English professor said that the fact that Matthew Shepard was murdered because he was gay was a hoax. (She has since tried to backtrack on her words.) The fact is gay people in this country are attacked and killed because of their sexual orientation here in the U.S. In some cases, gay people are targeted because they seem to some to be “easy pickings” and the real motivation for the attack is pure harassment or robbery or even rape.

There was a rash of attacks on gay people here in Houston in the 90s, one of which was the murder of Paul Broussard, which happened near where I lived. If you’ve never read about this case, I recommend that you read this article or for a slightly different perspective look here.

It only takes reading the gay press online to know that these attacks are still happening today. I can’t say what percentage of gay people have experienced physical attacks or the threat of being attacked, but I would guess that it’s a high percentage, from attacks in schools to attacks in the street to attacks at home.

In spite of all these attacks (I’ve experienced it myself as I’ve mentioned on my about page), I don’t really support hate crimes legislation. If someone is attacked, they are attacked and the perpetrator should be punished. If someone is murdered, the killer should be tried and punished according to the law, not because of who was killed but because murder is murder no matter who the victim is.

I agree with some in Congress who ask how do we determine which groups should be covered under hate crimes. Ours is a democracy and everyone should be treated equally, no slippery slopes.

And that is the rationale of those people who are against hate crimes legislation: they do not want to have to give special treatment to certain groups.

But where is that rationale when it comes to Marriage Equality? Those who are against marriage equality certainly favor the idea of a special status for heterosexual people. And those against same-sex marriage are not just limited to the evangelicals and other Republicans.

How would all of those who voted in favor of the hate crimes bill have voted if the bill were for legalizing same-sex marriage? I doubt that the majority would have voted for it. While many of these representatives may feel they are doing the right thing, this type of legislation is not the answer to stopping the attacks and murders of gay people, nor of any other group of people. It’s no different than putting that metal plate over the construction hole in the street. You can drive over the hole, but it’s still there and eventually needs to be fixed.

The only real “fix” here is to change the attitudes of individuals and of society as a whole. It’s very hard to change ideas when they have been pounded into someone’s head from an early age.

But the government can do that by making laws that bring equal rights to all citizens. (We’ve seen this when slavery was abolished, when women were given the right to vote, when mixed race couples were allowed to marry.) I don’t know if people who have not been denied rights can understand this. I’m pretty sure that most women can understand this; I’m pretty sure that people of many ethnic minorities can understand this; I know that almost every gay person knows this. Even with the election of Barack Obama, the majority of our elected officials are still heterosexual white men, and most of them do not understand what it means to be discriminated against and do not want to understand it. Because if they were to make the playing ground equal for everyone, they might lose some of their power.

Putting specific groups into hate crimes laws does not make people of those groups any stronger. It weakens them by saying they need special protection, and in reality, is a way of keeping them second class citizens.

Instead what the government needs to do is enact and enforce laws, such as for marriage, labor, and immigration, that give all citizens their due rights under the Constitution.

We can only hope that people like Virginia Foxx, who are against giving special status to any citizens through hate crimes legislation, would also realize that by expressing that viewpoint, they are advocating equal status for all citizens and, thus, would support bills that provide that equality: legislation in favor of same-sex marriage and the elimination of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.