â€œThe only thing the repeal of DADT changes is that LGB folks can now fight and possibly die for this country. It does not allow for partner benefits if that service member is killed in action. It does not allow for housing expenses or housing, for that matter, for same-sex couples. It does not provide piece of mind that an LGB service member will not be discriminated against because there is no discrimination policy included. It does not provide a separation allowance for same-sex couples. It does not provide funding or country clearance for same-sex partners. It does not even allow transgender people to serve [openly.] And, if you reenlist after you were discharged for being gay, there is no guarantee that you will be given the same job. You will go where the military needs you – if they need you.â€
–Beth Brooker, a board member of Hampton Roads Pride and the State Lead for GetEQUAL VA.
Just as parallels may be drawn between our New Civil Rights Movement and the Civil Rights Movement which culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 leading to the desegregation of civilians in the United States, the repeal of Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tell is analogous to the desegregation of our armed forces.
In January, 1776, because of manpower shortages, George Washington lifted the ban on black enlistment in the Continental Army. All-black units were formed in Rhode Island and Massachusetts; many were slaves promised freedom for serving in lieu of their masters.
In February, 1946 African-American World War II veteran Isaac Woodard was attacked and blinded by policemen in Aiken, South Carolina.
In July, 1946 Two African-American veterans and their wives were taken from their car near Monroe, Georgia, by a white mob and shot to death; their bodies were found to contain 60 bullets.
In January, 1948 President Truman decided to end segregation in the armed forces and the civil service through administrative action (executive order) rather than through legislation.
In October, 1953, the Army announced that 95% of African-American soldiers were serving in integrated units.
The Articles of War of 1916 explicitly prohibited homosexuality in the U.S. military, but the ban wasn’t enforced until World War II. (However thousands of lesbians were allowed to serve; asking women about their sexuality violated the behavior standards of the times.)
On Oct. 25, 1992 Petty Officer Third Class Allen R. Schindler, 22, was battered to death against the fixtures of a public toilet in a park near the naval base at Sasebo, Japan. He was so disfigured that his mother said she was able to recognize him only by the tattoos on his arms. The Navy said that his skull was battered, most of his ribs were broken and his penis was cut off.
On July 6, 1999 Private First Class Barry Winchell, 21, was bludgeoned to death at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, after he was suspected of being gay.
On June 30, 2009 Gay Seaman August Provost, 29, of Houston was shot multiple times as he stood guard at Camp Pendleton.
In 1992, Bill Clintonâ€™s campaign promise to lift the ban led to the passage of The Military Personnel Eligibility Act of 1993, also known as “Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tell.” The Pentagon agreed to stop asking about sexuality, but it never agreed to stop investigating whether those serving were gay. Since 1994 almost 14,000 service members have been dismissed because of their sexual orientation.
On January 27th, 2010 President Barak Obama declared in his State of the Union address that heâ€™d work to “finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”
Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tell ends today, but the fruits of our victory are bittersweet. Lesbian, gay and bisexual men and women will still be treated as second class citizens; transgender men and women must still serve in secrecy as they have for centuries in armies worldwide.
The chronicles of history are populated with second class citizens. Second class citizens built the monuments, worked the fields, prepared the food, fought the wars, and birthed the children. The world was filled with second class citizens; economies were based on them. Little has changed in the roughly 5000 years of the written word.
But the yearning for equality, the freedom to love, also echoes through those chronicles. An overwhelming desire to determine our own destiny seems to be inherent in our humanity. Heroes are forged from the chains of servitude. A belief in oneâ€™s own dignity can lead to martyrdom. Lovers will scale walls and climb mountains to be with their beloved. Neither the threat of imprisonment nor the possibility of death deters. Having taken a breath of freedom, men and women want to fill their lungs with it. Tasting the sweetness of the crumbs of equality, we crave the entire cake.
Although our country was founded on the assertion “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” our constitution, although since amended, still enshrines the concept that some citizens are worth more than others. Some people literally counted less and some didnâ€™t count at all. The “pursuit of happiness” by some was determined by the whims of others. To put it in Orwellian terms â€“ all men are created equal but some men are created more equal than others.
We are now in the midst of a New Civil Rights Movement. What was once called The Gay Movement and then The Gay and Lesbian Movement became the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Movement and then The LGBT Movement. But now our movement is no longer Gay. Over time our alphabet soup of diversity has added more letters and the A for allies is perhaps the one that will determine its success.
Bayard Rustin, the openly gay African-American who taught Martin Luther King, Jr. about Gandhian non-violence and orchestrated the 1963 march that gave Dr. King the platform to vocalize his Dream, said in 1986, â€œToday, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new â€œniggersâ€ are gays. . . . It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change. . . The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.â€
Many in the African-American Community disapprove of this equation of our movement with their struggle for dignity and equality. They argue because we were not enslaved or separated from our families or beaten or lynched or subjected to systematic rape, the comparison somehow demeans their Civil Rights Movement.
The enslavement of our spirit is not the same as the bondage of their ancestors, but for our homeless queer teens, disowned by their families, for our women subjected to â€˜correctiveâ€™ rape, for our mothers whose bullied gay children commit suicide or whose sons were bludgeoned or repeatedly shot, for our transgender women who are beaten or murdered, the differences seem few.
No, our New Civil Rights Movement is not exactly the same, but there is no hierarchy to oppression. We are born, we queer sons and daughters, to mostly heterosexual parents. We are disparate from conception, raised as strangers in a strange land, sometimes embraced, sometimes cast out.
Yes, today we celebrate the repeal of Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tell. And tomorrow the LGBT men and women who serve our country will still be treated as second class citizens. Will you speak up for them?
(Image:Â Sean Carlson, equalityphotography.com)
Stuart Wilber lives in Seattle with his partner and cat. Equality continues to elude them.
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On World AIDS Day, DOJ Says Tennessee Law Discriminates Against Those With HIV
The Department of Justice celebrated World AIDS Day by calling out a Tennessee law that discriminates against people with HIV.
The DOJ released a report Friday that the state’s aggravated prostitution law violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. A person arrested under the aggravated prostitution law is normally changed with a misdemeanor, and faces up to six months in prison and a $500 fine. However, if the person arrested has HIV, the crime becomes a felony, and if they’re convicted, they would face between three and 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
“Tennessee’s aggravated prostitution law is outdated, has no basis in science, discourages testing and further marginalizes people living with HIV,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “People living with HIV should not be treated as violent sex offenders for the rest of their lives solely because of their HIV status. The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities are protected from discrimination.”
The law was originally passed in 1991. It classifies HIV-positive sex workers as violent sex offenders, according to WKRN-TV. This means that in addition to the sentence, those convicted are put on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry, usually for the rest of their lives.
The DOJ advised the state—and particularly, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, which enforces the statute most frequently, the department says—to stop enforcing the law. It also calls on the state to repeal the law and remove anyone from the registry when aggravated prostitution is the only offense. If this doesn’t happen, Tennessee could face a lawsuit.
Tennessee isn’t the only state to have laws applying to only those living with HIV. In 1988, Michigan passed a law requiring those with HIV to disclose their status before sex, according to WLNS-TV. The law is still on the books, but was updated in 2019 to lift the requirement if the HIV-positive person has an undetectable viral load. The law now also requires proof that the person set out to transmit HIV.
Laws like these can work against public health efforts, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH says these types of laws can make people less likely to be tested for HIV, as people cannot be punished if they didn’t know their status. In addition, critics say, the laws can be used to further discriminate. A Canadian study found a disproportionate number of Black men had been charged under HIV exposure laws.
World AIDS Day was first launched in 1988 by the World Health Organization and the United Nations to highlight awareness of the then-relatively new disease. The theme of the 2023 World AIDS Day is “Let Communities Lead,” calling on community leaders to end the AIDS epidemic.
Featured image by UNIS Vienna/Flickr via Creative Commons License.
John Fetterman Says Bob Menendez ‘Senator for Egypt,’ Should Be Expelled Next
Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) called Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) a “senator for Egypt,” and said he needed to be expelled from Congress, much like the now-former Representative George Santos.
Fetterman appeared on The View on Friday. The live broadcast aired as Santos had been kicked out of the House. When host Joy Behar asked what he thought of the vote, Fetterman immediately replied, “I’m not surprised.”
“If you are going to expel Santos, how can you allow somebody like Menendez to remain in the Senate? And, you know, Santos’ kind of lies were almost, you know, funny,” Fetterman said. “Menendez, I think is really a senator for Egypt, you know, not New Jersey. So I really think he needs to go.”
Host Sunny Hostin then asked if Fetterman was uncomfortable with expelling Menendez, as, like with Santos, he had only been indicted, not convicted.
“He has the right for his day in court and all of it, but he doesn’t have the right to to have those kinds of votes and things. That’s not a right,” he said. “I think we need to make that kind of decision to send him out.”
This September, Menendez was indicted on corruption charges. He is accused of accepting bribes of cash, gold and a car, as well as giving “highly sensitive” information about U.S. Embassy staffers in Cairo to the Egyptian government, according to USA Today. Menendez was forced to step down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was replaced by Ben Cardin, Maryland’s Democratic senator.
Menendez denied wrongdoing, and has refused to resign, despite many calls to do so from both Democrats and Republicans.
“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” Menendez said in a statement following his indictment. “Since this investigation was leaked nearly a year ago, there has been an active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists.”
This is not Menendez’s first brush with the law. Menendez was indicted in 2015 on federal corruption charges. He was accused of helping Salomon Melgen, one of Menendez’s campaign contributors, by intervening in a dispute with federal regulators and helping Melgen get a port security contract in the Dominican Republic.
In 2017, Menendez’s trial ended with a hung jury, and the Department of Justice declined to retry the case, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Menendez denied all wrongdoing.
House Votes to Boot George Santos 311-114
Representative George Santos (R-NY) has been expelled from Congress following a 311-114 vote; two House members voted “present.”
The expulsion of Santos follows a debate on his fate on Thursday. The vote required a two-thirds majority, or 290 of the 435-seat chamber. This is Santos’ third vote of expulsion; last month, a vote failed with 31 Democrats voting against, according to The Hill.
While the vote was decisive, some notable Republicans voted to save Santos, including House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN).
“We’ve not whipped the vote and we wouldn’t,” Johnson told CNN Wednesday. “I trust that people will make that decision thoughtfully and in good faith. I personally have real reservations about doing this, I’m concerned about a precedent that may be set for that.”
Santos himself had harsh words for the House following the vote. Leaving the capitol building, he briefly spoke with reporters.
“The House spoke that’s their vote. They just set new dangerous precedent for themselves,” he told CNN. “Why would I want to stay here? To hell with this place.”
He then cut his time short, telling reporters, “You know what? As unofficially no longer a member of Congress, I no longer have to answer your questions.”
Santos also faces 23 federal charges, which include fraud, money laundering and misuse of campaign funds, according to CNN. He has pleaded not guilty. An Ethics Committee report found evidence that Santos used campaign funds for Botox and even an OnlyFans account.
On Thursday, Santos said he refused to resign because otherwise, “they win.”
“If I leave the bullies take place. This is bullying,” Santos said. “The reality of it is it’s all theater, theater for the cameras and theater for the microphones. Theater for the American people at the expense of the American people because no real work’s getting done.”
Santos also threatened to file a resolution to expel Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY). Bowman pulled a fire alarm in September. Bowman pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge, and said it was an accident. He said he thought the fire alarm would open a locked door as he rushed to a vote. Bowman paid a $1,000 fine.
There have only been six total expulsions from the House, including Santos. Santos is the only Republican to ever be expelled from the House.
The previous expulsion was in 2002, when Representative James Traficant (D-OH) was expelled after a 420-1 vote. Traficant had been convicted on 10 counts of corruption-related crimes.
Before Traficant, Representative Michael “Ozzie” Myers (D-PA) was the first representative of the modern era to be expelled. Myers got the boot following his conviction for accepting bribes. Myers couldn’t keep out of trouble; in 2022, he was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison on charges of election fraud.
Prior to Myers, the only expulsions from the House were in 1861, at the start of the Civil War. Henry Cornelius Burnett (D-KY), John William Reid (D-MO) and John Bullock Clark (Whig-MO) were all expelled for joining the Confederacy.
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