Over the last couple of days, I have been contemplating the end of the federal government’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. With DADT gone, anyone who otherwise qualifies to be in the military may now join any branch without concern regarding the enlistee’s sexuality. The United States of America has taken a step forward with the change, but I must admit, as happy as I am about this fact, I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about the celebration.
Since the days when Lieutenant Gotthold Frederick Enslin was discharged for sodomy from the Continental Army in 1778, American military policy regarding gays has consistently banned homosexuality among its soldiers, but the structure of that disapproval has changed many times, most often in the 20th Century. During World War II, the psychiatric component of the military evaluation began, at which time homosexuality was considered a psychopathology. Thereafter, several categories of discharges were established, such as the blue discharge which was neither honorable nor dishonorable, although it held a stigma in society after the individual left the military. In 1942, if an individual was not found to have sexual contact prior to the court martial, they were given an undesirable discharge. A dishonorable discharge was given to those who had sexual contact with individuals of the same gender. General discharges were also offered to some servicemembers. Interestingly enough, the Crittendon Report in 1957 determined that gay people did not pose a security risk, but that the anit-gay policies should remain because homosexuality was “evil.”
When DADT began on December 21, 1993, there was a mix of hope and disappointment in President Bill Clinton’s choice to go this route. Although he promised to be the president for all American citizens, his initial attempt to eliminate the gay ban in the military was shot down by Congress. He was advised that full permission for gay and lesbian individuals to serve in the military was unthinkable. He chose to establish a policy of “ignorance is bliss” instead. I know many people were happy with this policy, but it seemed that any codified ignorance would not be a good thing. I mean, what did the policy really do?
Prior to DADT, a servicemember could not openly state that he or she was gay. The soldier could not openly date a partner, be seen in public holding hands with an individual of the same gender, and they could be asked whether he or she was gay. If the soldier answered, “Yes,” then court-martial proceedings ensued, after which the soldier was ceremoniously removed from the military.
After DADT, the same things could happen, except the military was not allowed to ask the question in the first place. If the soldier admitted to being homosexual, the same process began as before DADT. Ask many soldiers, such as Lt. Daniel Choi, if there was any difference. DADT was hailed as a step forward toward full equality for Americans, and I suppose at some level, it was.
Here’s my issue: I have known family and friends who served in the military who are gay; one of whom served during World War II. He was a decorated veteran and served honorably for several years overseas. The thought that had he served during DADT and it became known he was gay, the same thing that would have happened to him during WWII, would have happened to him during the 1990s as well if his superiors discovered he was homosexual. The only difference is that during DADT, no one would have asked in the first place. The bottom line is that gay folk were personae non grata in the military until yesterday.
Something has changed now, of course. Gay people can enlist in the military as they can in many western countries, such as England, Canada, Spain and Italy. They can serve beside their straight counterparts and all of them will be called soldiers… sort of. For a while, at least, we know that because we are neither gender blind nor sexuality blind, these soldiers will continue to be called gay soldiers and lesbian soldiers among the rank-and-file and in the country as a whole. The other salient thought is that married and registered domestic-partnered gay soldiers, will have no benefits for their spouses because of the Defense of Marriage Act.
We should call this event as it is: Another step forward. It is not the end of the journey for our service members who happen to be gay. A group of our soldiers will know they cannot support their spouses with health insurance, death benefits, or be ceremonially recognized if they should die as the spouses of straight soldiers are. They will give the same service, but not have the same benefits. This is not equality.
So, as we celebrate this movement forward, let us stay aware that until full equality is achieved, work still must be done to ensure our American soldiers… all our American soldiers… are treated equally.
The National Equality March in Washington, D.C., scheduled for October 10-11, 2009, presented Americans an opportunity to offer their three-minute speeches for selection for this event. They called it “March Equality Idol Auditions.” They asked that the theme reflect the reasons why it was important for the speaker to attend the March in Washington. The voting between the top five speeches will be on Facebook and YouTube. I only found out about the competition yesterday afternoon and I had to write the speech and get it filmed and sumbitted by today, Thursday September 17, 2009 at 5:00 PST. My video turned out very nicely, I think. Because of the lack of sufficient technology, I couldn’t find a way to download it onto my computer from the camera I have, and therefore, I didn’t submit it. I must admit I am deeply disappointed right now. I will always wonder if my speech would have been selected, even for the top five finalists.
First, I am proud that my husband, David, figured out how to get the video onto our computer so that I can share it with you here. Second, the text of the speech follows.
Here is the text of my speech. I hope you enjoy it.
A Family Tradition of Hope
by James C. Glica-Hernandez
Written September 16, 2009
Three weeks before my tenth birthday in 1969, the Stonewall Riots erupted. Being an avid reader of the newspaper even at that age, I knew what was happening in New York. Men in dresses were fighting against the tyranny of bigotry and second-class citizenry in the greatest metropolis of the United States. The truth is, I didn’t know what to think about seeing gay people in the light of day because I had already been questioning my own sexuality in the haze of shame that every young, gay boy felt back then, and probably still does.
A mere nine years later, then having a wife and child, and having come out to my family, I found myself marching under a drizzly Sacramento sky, in my first gay pride parade at the urging, and in the presence, of my beloved father, Floyd Glica. When I protested about marching in the rain, Dad told me, “Jim, if we don’t stand up for who you are today, you will always be trampled upon by those who don’t like you just because you’re gay. We have to march.”
That day in 1978, I learned about gay pride from my fearless, remarkable Dad.
I am now the patriarch of my family, including my husband, five children, and nine grandchildren. I have seen someone in every generation of my family, as well as my students, wrestle with questions about their own sexuality. Sadly, they’ve learned that they will have a lesser experience in the U.S. as a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person than a straight person would.
My presence at the 2009 National Equality March is borne out of my love for my family, friends, and students. Together, we demand the necessary leadership from President Obama and Congress that creates a voice, like my father’s, that mandates equality and freedom for all.
The late Senator Edward Kennedy, arguably the most valiant warrior for equality ever to have graced the Senate floor, made a vital statement in 2007 regarding ENDA. He said, “America stands for justice for all. Congress must make clear that when we say ‘all,’ we mean all. America will never be America until we do.”
The Chávez-Glica-Hernandez family thanks you for this opportunity to join with your families in a community of hope, power, and vibrant leadership to ensure that we all… Senator Kennedy’s all… my father’s all… are able to participate and contribute to our society as free men and women; free from the branding of sexuality, gender, color, religion, national origin, disability, or economic status, as it must be in these United States of America.
Sometimes, change happens all at once. Usually, however, it happens in tiny increments, especially when it comes to social change.
United States Senator Barbara Boxer (California) recently distributed an e-mail indicating that she is joining a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The passage of ENDA would prohibit all employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and other groups who hire and fire staff from firing, refusing to hire, or discriminating against anyone on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.
This bill has already been supported by high profile national civil rights and labor organizations and more than fifty Fortune 500 companies.
One must wonder if the significance of this era is being missed by those who feel they are not directly involved in the movement toward the eradication of discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender citizens?
Is it even possible to realize how important a particular shift in public perception is until after the transition is complete? The movements to ensure a woman’s right to vote and the acknowledgement of and action against racial discrimination began in small ways, but it wasn’t until the lion’s share of the legislation was passed that we could begin to fathom just how pervasive the blight of hatred and disrespect had been and how far we were stepping ahead.
Senator Boxer’s note to all of us was particularly welcome given that President Obama has shown so little dynamic leadership in relation to repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue (DADT) policies currently on the books in our country.
The best news about ENDA is that it is a bipartisan effort by our Federal legislators. Nothing gives us greater hope for our future than when, on both sides of the aisle, our elected officials choose to correct a horrible injustice in our laws and societal patterns in such a dynamic way.
Slowly, the awakening is beginning that each person, no matter how they are identified in the little boxes on most forms, has the right to all the freedoms promised in our United States Constitution. This new effort is one more important step.
Congratulations to everyone involved in the passage of this bill!
Seaman August Provost
Camp Pendleton, San Diego, CA.
Shot to death.
Died June 30, 2009
Seaman Allen R. Schindler, Jr.
Beaten to death
December 13, 1969 to October 28, 1992
Ft. Campbell, Ky
Beaten to death
August 31, 1977 – July 6, 1999
The strange thing is that I’m not going to discuss how they died. I’m not going to talk about their families. I’m not going to vent my outrage at their murderers.
I will simply say that these young men, and others unnamed in the media, closeted and afraid during their honorable service, died in the line of duty. They took their duty seriously enough to deny who they were. They carried their duty with enough gravity to set aside their own truth to live the military truth of the United States of America in order to serve our nation with distinction.
Through their fearful and oppressive environment, through the weight of institutionalized homophobia, through their youth and inexperience with the burden of true hatred, these valiant young men died in horrific ways, either in uniform or with their uniforms hanging in their barracks closet.
These are our children, America. Look at their faces and remember their names. They lived protecting us. We didn’t do the same for them. We killed them with our ignorance.
God rest their souls and bring them into the light of his blessings. Guide us to our awakening that nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of all our citizens. Amen.
It is criminal that at the federal and state level, discrimination is being presented in such a light that it appears those in authority are surprised that anyone is questioning their intentions toward the LGBT community.
I have a simple note to President Barack Obama.
Dear Mr. President,
First, allow me to congratulate you on your election as President of the United States. As a citizen, I am personally and nationally challenged by recent events that affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Please accept my comments in the constructive and immediate way they are intended.
Every moment you allow honorable people who happen to be homosexual, like Lt. Colonel Victor Fehrenbach and Lt. Daniel Choi, to stand before your tribunals, and let there be no mistake, they are your tribunals as Commander-in-chief, you are standing against equality and non-discrimination. There is no middle ground in that truth, Mr. President. None.
In the same way that we must stand against the abuse of children, unavailability of health care for the poor and middle class, and declining education funding for those students most in need, we must, too, stand against codified hatred and disrespect of any of our citizens, especially those who serve our country in the most valuable way possible, some of whom, losing their lives in the process.
We are watching, Mr. President, with a hopeful eye; however, that eye is daily growing increasingly full of tears awaiting your response. We are truly blinded by your stagnancy, deafened by your silence, and crippled by your inaction on this issue.
Take a moment and look at sites like bannination.com at what your inaction is permitting some people to say about Lt. Col. Fehrenbach. Yes, we have free speech, but without true leadership in another direction, you are their leader first. The irony is that Lt. Col. Fehrenbach is fighting equally for these people’s rights, as well as everyone else’s. Is it any wonder why our children are committing suicide for being perceived as gay? How can they possibly respect that aspect of their lives if their President and military commit punitive actions against others like them so publicly? What message are they receiving when at many of the state and national levels, they are told they are second class citizens?
It is time for real leadership in this arena, Mr. President.
First, an Executive Order must be signed discontinuing all actions related to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It was a bad policy and a bad law to begin with and should be shut down as soon as possible.
Second, you must personally let Congress know that there is a deadline by which time you expect a bill to be on your desk that revokes any and all laws related to discrimination of any kind, including against the LGBT community.
Third, you must clearly state that the laws of the Federal Government that pertain to the rights of one citizen pertain to the rights of all citizens. That includes marriage.
Only in these three actions will you truly be remembered as a leader in Civil Rights.
Thank you for reading this correspondence, Mr. President. I trust that you will do the right thing soon.
James C. Glica-Hernandez
Citizen of the United States