Incremental Equality, But More Than Just Being Legal; And–Rachel Maddow Interviews “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Victims

Some events are so staggering that they leave an indelible image in our minds of where we were and what we were doing when we first heard the news. I remember Kennedy’s death, the Challenger disaster, and 9/11 that way. It seems that it’s the disastrous events that stay embedded in our brains more than those more glorious.

I don’t remember how or where I was when I heard that the Supreme Court had ruled in the Lawrence v. Texas case in 2003.  I do remember, though, the elation I felt after the highest court in the land’s ruling–for once feeling that I, as a person, wasn’t somehow “against the law” for just being who I was.  I do remember the thud-to-my-gut sensation watching the election returns in 2005 when Texas–like so many Bush-Rove politicked states–voted to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage.  Legal? Yes.  Equal? No.

Therefore, it was with guarded optimism that I watched C-Span this past Saturday, knowing that it was perhaps one of those pivotal moments, with the U.S. Senate voting on the repeal of DADT.  When a cloture vote of 63-33 stopped McCain and his makeup-wearing, Republican cronies from any chance of filibustering, I became more hopeful. 

(Yes, makeup.  I’d be interested in knowing how many of these old southern geezers go to the beauty shop to get their makeup and hair done together so that they can dish with the stylists dolling them up for the cameras.  Are these the same people worrying about the military becoming feminized?)

Before I take too far of a turn here and screech my wheels, Rachel Maddow had a wonderful show with a full live audience yesterday reviewing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” in which she had a panel of former and current gay military members:  Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, Maj. Michael Almy, Cadet Katie Miller, and Capt. Jonathan Hopkins, who have played a big part in getting the effects of DADT made known, which ultimately helped to get this discriminatory policy overturned.

It’s compelling, so you might want to keep a Kleenex handy just in case.

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U.S. Senate To Vote on DADT Repeal; Call Your Senators Today–Easy Access to their Phone Numbers Here

The U.S. House of Representatives has already approved legislation to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) in this Lame Duck session.  Senate Majority Leader Reid has called for the Senate to vote on the same legislation on Saturday, December 18th.

It’s time for you to do your part.  Call the senators from your state and tell them to vote for the repeal of DADT. 

Unlike some days, when I have had difficulty getting through to Senator Cornyn’s and Hutchison’s offices, this morning I was immediately able to speak to interns (I assume) who listened to my point of view and probably were tallying those for and against.  Maybe it’s easier to get through because it’s Friday or people are Christmas shopping.  Whatever it is, it seems like today is a good day to call and be heard.

Find the numbers for your senators here.  Just click open that cell phone and call.

On the Road Home: Pickled Okra, Prop. 8, and Lt. Dan Choi

With the red jalapeño peppers, these pickled okra should have a bite!

Maybe it’s the summer heat, but lately I’ve been having trouble getting any posts written.  The work week evenings just don’t seem long enough, and weekends require getting accomplished all the to-do items that have accumulated through the week.

My best thinking time these days takes place after work as I make the 45-minute or a bit more commute home from downtown Houston out to my corner of the “burbs”.   Though I know my posts can be long-winded,  I thought instead of trying to write longer posts on just one topic, I’d start a new series of posts called “On the Road Home” and give a word or two about several of the topics that are on my mind.  (Keeping it to “a word or two” might be difficult.)  So here goes.

Okra is about all that’s left doing anything in the garden, and more of the plants are starting to produce, so I’ve had nice messes to eat for a couple weeks now.  Now that there are more to gather, I decided to try my hand at making some pickled okra.  With two days’ worth of okra, I have enough for a 1-pint jar.  There have been some trials and errors, but I’m hoping for good results after they’ve set for about 6 weeks.

The judge in California disallowed the ban on gay marriage that was passed in the elections of 2008.  The judge seems to have written a strong decision against the ban, but I’m sure we’re going to hear all kinds of screaming about activist judges and a lot of conservative candidates are going to try to use the ruling as fodder in this fall’s elections.  Rachel Maddow had a good recap on her show this evening.  She had a lot of interesting excerpts from Judge Walker’s decision.  Link to the entire decision here.

Actually, the raison d’etre for this new series of posts was what I caught on the radio this evening “On the Road Home.”  Usually, I switch around on the 6 eclectic stations I’ve got locked in, and tonight after making one of the switches,  I caught Democracy Now interviewing Lt. Dan Choi, the army officer, who has just been kicked out of the army based on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for admitting that he is gay.  I was totally impressed by his elequence and convictions.  Also, this interview shows him from quite a few different angles, not just an activist.  I was listening, but click here for the article and video of the interview, starting about the 9-minute point.

11 and a Half Inches, Right There in Front of My Face

Yes! Eleven and a half inches! along with rest of this evening's takings from the garden.

Bending over, pulling back the leaves on the bean plants to see if there were enough for a mess, I turned my head , and saw hanging from the trellis, among the thick foliage a huge cucumber (11 1/2 inches–I measured it!).  I was surprised not only by the size, but that there would be even one cucumber mature enough to pick.  Only a couple of days ago, I had pulled up the only other cucumber plant because it was yellowing and drying up.  I had rescued just one small, somewhat shriveled cucumber from that plant before its demise.  This other plant has been blooming for quite some time, and its vines have begun to trail down from the trellis and all over the rest of the garden, but only in the last few days have I been able to spy a couple of small inch-long cukes.

It took me just seconds to grab the big cucumber, pull up a couple of green onions, and pluck a ripening tomato from its vine.  I knew what I was going to do with it!

Make a Greek salad!

This salad made with fresh tomato, cucumber, some onion, feta cheese, a shake or two of pepper, with oil and vinegar splashed on has been my favorite since my Air Force days in Greece (see more here).  A neighborhood pizza place just around the corner from my apartment in Glyfada was almost my home away from home and where I often had a big Greek salad, and a delicious pizza, something that ruined me on American pizza for a number years after I got back to the U.S.

My salad tonight tasted almost as delicious as the Greek salad that lives in my memory.  There were already a couple of tomatoes I had picked earlier in the week waiting to be cut up, added to the rough chucks of cucumber, bits of onion, and the feta cheese that had been waiting in the fridge for this occasion.  I have to admit that instead of vinegar and oil, I use Kroger’s Greek dressing, which I like even better.

Oh, and I don’t care what you’ve been served in restaurants; I never had one Greek salad in Greece with lettuce in it.

“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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Typical Small-Minded Thinking and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Get Kansas National Guard Member Kicked Out of the Military

Amy Brian During Active Duty       (Photo-CJOnline)

Amy Brian During Active Duty (Photo-CJOnline)

This morning when I read about the Kansas National Guard discharging one of its members for being gay based on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, I was once again launched into the “push-pull” relationship that I have had for a long tim2  with my home state, Kansas, and some of its people. (Though I have lived in Texas for many years and probably will continue to do so, I never have considered myself a Texan, nor do I care to.)

Kansas always tugs at me because it holds so many things that are dear to me: my family, for sure; old schoolmates, with whom close friendships are easily rekindled after many years without contact; a rich history, which started prior to but was molded by the Civil War; and, not least of all, the land itself, where in late spring, section after section of waving green wheat can be seen from a passenger seat of an airliner coming in for a landing, a sight that cannot be fully appreciated down on the ground.

Kansas is the kind of place where a neighbor roto-tills your garden plot out of sheer goodness because he knows that, otherwise, you’d be doing all that digging by hand with a garden fork. Kansas is the kind of place where the cashier at the magazine counter in the Wichita Airport chats with you and asks you if you’re looking for anything else, not to push sales, but just because she’s truly interested. It’s small and generally has a slower pace of life, so people have time to be kind and helpful.

Some of the actions and beliefs push me away, though, because this slower pace of life leads to a great deal of “small-thinking”. People with too much time on their hands and no respect for personal boundaries break into your house, not to steal anything, but just out of curiosity of knowing what kind of stuff you have and what kinds of magazines you might be reading, or drive by the capital city’s only gay bar to try to figure out whose cars are parked outside and what they might do with that information.

Therefore, it’s no surprise to hear that someone “had it in for” Amy Brian, a member of the Kansas National Guard, who had served honorably in Iraq. A co-worker at her civilian job reported her to the Kansas Adjutant General for kissing a woman at Wal-Mart. Subsequently, she lost her regular job, was kicked out of the guard because of the DODT policy, and lost all of her benefits from having served her country in the military. Read the Topeka Capitol-Journal’s article by Jan Biles; it’s well worth it. If you read the comments attached to the article, you’ll get an idea about this “smallness” (both the positive and the negative) to which I have been referring. You can also read Amy’s own comment on the thread under “ProudTBMe” at 6:45 AM, Feb. 9th.

Along with all the advantages that Kansas has of being a place where life is slower and people are kind, there’s another side, a side that includes Amy’s co-worker and other small-minded people, who not only want to “get in your business”, but want to control “your business”.