View from the Suburbs: Bits ‘n Pieces

This little dab of beans came from tonight's first picking. A couple of sad radishes came along for the ride.

The rain these last couple of days has helped all the plants in my little kitchen garden, those in the pots and beds, and, more than any others, the grass.

So the meager, little first picking of beans this evening seems just as interesting as most of the news items on TV, though there are a few things that have happened for which I have two cents:

British Petroleum:  They’ve promoted the brand BP rather than British Petroleum for a long time here in Houston.  On billboards and in other advertising, they’ve seemed to want to hide their real identity and appear to the consumer to be an American company.   After the explosion at their Texas City plant, British Petroleum came across as a denier, just like now with the gulf well, not wanting to own up to all the safety problems.  That British Petroleum is directly involved in another major catastrophe is not a big surprise.

Ted Haggard:  He’s started a new church in Colorado Springs.  Why?  He’s the type of person that wants to have the stage lights on him, which is really what many of these televangelists want . . . and, of course, the big money.  This guy is really just kind of creepy.  I’ve said it before:  nobody starts experimenting with gay sex–if they’re straight (or vice versa) in their 50s.  I’m betting that even after all the hoopla about his “change”, Haggard is starting a church back in Colorado Springs because it’s a place he’s comfortable in and he’ll be in a situation that he’s comfortable in.  It’s not that much different than getting a job as a mechanic for a Ford dealership after you’ve worked in a similar position for a Chevy dealer for 20 years.  I don’t doubt that in the not too distant future (if it’s still not occurring), there’ll be some “prayer time” with some guys, like Mike Jones, the male prostitute that he was seeing for three years.  (Three years?  That’s a relationship, isn’t it?)

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:  A lot of promises were made by candidate Obama, and he and the Democrats got a lot of both verbal and monetary support because of those promises.  DADT has almost  80% support from the American public, yet this administration is hemming and hawing about getting this dinosaur repealed.  I know that gay people are not the only ones that are disappointed after electing a president and a congress that supported him.  Health care reform is another example.  The sad thing is this administration with the majority in Congress has the opportunity to make some much needed changes, but for quite awhile now they’ve all just looked like woosies.

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“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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Winds of Change Come to Kansas Both in Energy Producers . . . and in People’s Hearts

Change has come to the Kansas landscape:  the Smoky Hills Wind Farm, Ellsworth and Lincoln Counties

Change has come to the Kansas landscape: the Smoky Hills Wind Farm, Ellsworth and Lincoln Counties

Some complain that Obama and the Congress aren’t doing enough to bring about changes for gay equality. But for real change to happen when it comes to beliefs and prejudices, it has to happen in people’s hearts.

I was raised in a part of the country where big changes don’t seem to happen very fast–no matter what kind of change we might be talking about. That place is western Kansas (central Kansas if you think of the state as having 3 regions), where the wind never seems to stop blowing from one direction or the other.

I read an article today that reminded me of an event I had wanted to write about before. Both of these show that changes in the way others feel toward gay people are being made.

In my little ol’ hometown of Dorrance, the biggest event of every year is Memorial Day weekend. It’s the time when alumni go back for school reunions and other get-to-gethers on Saturday and Sunday. On the Monday holiday itself, there is always a parade that goes from downtown out to the flower-filled cemetery, and the local American Legion post puts on a moving service and tribute. That particular event is so much a part of our local heritage. (And me too. You know, I can’t even explain; it’s something that maybe only people from small towns can understand, but I’m getting choked up as I write this.)

But, anyway, back to the point. I don’t think I have ever been so proud of my hometown and its people as a couple of years ago when I went back for the holiday weekend, and the main speaker at the Memorial Day service was the youngest sister of one of my old friends, who is now a university professor and an out lesbian. I had met her partner the year before at the same event, but I was completely overwhelmed with happiness to see how my hometown of not even 250 people was so accepting and welcoming.

Today an article from the Garden City Telegraph also made me proud, proud of a young gay kid from Kansas. A senior at Garden City High School had taken it upon himself and gotten a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) started. Even though GCHS is one of the largest high schools in the state, the town of about 25,000 does sit out in the flat southwest Kansas plains, surrounded by farms and feedlots full of cattle. By reading the Comments to the article, we find that not everyone is accepting: his father kicked him out of the house. However, all but one commenter had very positive things to say. Except for his father, this young man seems to have a good support network and a very positive attitude. Hopefully, there are some PFLAG people in the area that will help the dad get some better understanding of his own feelings and that the two can once again have a relationship.

Only a few years ago, people thought that tall wind chargers would destroy the unique beauty of the rough Kansas pastureland, but once put in place, the wind farms have seemed to add their own beauty to the landscape, not to mention their benefit as clean energy producers.

I think that’s also what happens with people’s prejudices too: get to know what you fear and you find there’s really nothing to fear, and more possibly there’s something even more to endear.

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”.