Monday, May 25, 2009

Fighting the Good Fight Against DADT

It feels like a whole lot of nothing is happening in Washington to rid us of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The President hasn't rushed to fulfill his campaign promise to kick the policy to the curb. Some administration officials can't even see the curb. On Capitol Hill, Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy has been unable to find a Republican colleague to cosponsor a bill lifting the ban.

It's time for the gay community to adopt a new approach. Let's stop arguing that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the United State military is a matter of civil rights or fairness. Let's abandon logic and cease pointing out how harmful it is to our national security that the military keeps ejecting, for instance, Arab linguists.

Let's emphasize that this policy makes the U.S.A. inferior. To Uruguay.

Yes, that petite Latin American country is now ahead of us, having moved to lift its ban on gays in the military.

It's a blow to our national pride. We're lagging behind a country that, on a map, looks like the buttocks of South America.

Uruguay's gay ban was a relic of the 1973-85 military dictatorship. The law included homosexuality among the "mental illnesses and disorders" that made a person unfit for the armed forces.

The new decree says sexual orientation is no longer grounds to keep people from joining the military.

Altogether now, I want to hear every red-blooded American chant, "We're not number one! We're not number one!"

We’re not number two either. Scads of countries have leaped ahead of us. It's just plain embarrassing.

Earlier this year another South American nation, Argentina, jettisoned its ban on gays in the military. Days later the Philippines did the same. What a week. Not one but two countries outdistanced us. We earned ourselves a double helping of humble pie.

Really, that week should have been enough to get Americans hopping mad over being trumped by countries that don't have the decency to revere football.

The gay community played it wrong. We shouldn't have calmly pointed out that nations around the world are making the sensible choice for their militaries. Instead we should've harangued our fellow Americans, shamed them, demanded to know how they can put up with being left in the dust by countries no one can spell.

After attacking their patriotism, it might've been advantageous to question their bravery, too. These podunk countries aren't afraid of change. Are Americans so lily-livered that we're paralyzed by homos serving openly? Is the strongest military in the world actually made up of a bunch of wusses?

In addition to Uruguay, Argentina and the Philippines, other countries that have shot ahead of us include Canada, Israel, Australia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and more.

My favorite is Bermuda. The Bermuda Regiment doesn't discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and Regiment members aren't allowed to harass gay soldiers. In actuality discrimination within the ranks is tolerated, but at least the teeny island nation has seen fit to put an affirmative policy in place.

Which means that we've been bested by a military whose fiercest enemy is persistent seagulls.

There's another way of looking at this issue. Instead of focusing on those nations that allow gays to serve in the military, we could focus on those that explicitly ban them. Don't Ask, Don't Tell isn't precisely a ban but it's close, so we have much in common with Egypt, Syria, Peru, Singapore, and others.

The others include Cuba, Iran and North Korea. Axis of Evil party boys. Don't Ask, Don't Tell has us keeping company with the enemy. Blech.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Cluster of Firsts

The first half of 2009 has brought a happy helping of lesbian firsts. Early in the year Johanna Sigurdardottir became the first openly lesbian head of state when she accepted the job of prime minister of Iceland. Now we have two more prominent firsts.

I could get used to this. I'm exceedingly willing to try.

On May 11, Rabbi Denise Eger was formally installed as the president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. She's the first openly gay rabbi to become the group's president. She's the first woman to become the group's president. Eger didn't just break the glass ceiling—she danced the Hora on it.

The rabbis on the board, about 300 of them, belong to different denominations: Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox. Yet nary a discouraging word was heard about her orientation during the decision-making process. Of course, only about 20 Orthodox rabbis currently participate in the organization, but still, her election is no small potatoes. Make that no small potato pancakes.

Eger founded and leads the Reform-affiliated Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood. It serves the GLBT community in that gayborhood, as well as interfaith families and straight folks. Now her congregants will just have to be big and share her, as she embarks on a two-year presidential term.

The Board of Rabbis of Southern California is 72 years old. By contrast, the position of UK Poet Laureate is almost 350 years old. Not once has a woman held the British post. Cue royal trumpets. Not once, until now.

Carol Ann Duffy, both a commercially and critically successful poet, has ended the long string of male Poet Laureates that began in 1668 with John Dryden and included William Wordsworth and Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Duffy is also the first openly gay laureate. Ten years ago, when her name was in the hopper for the job, she reportedly lost out to Andrew Motion because of concern over how her orientation would be received. "I think we've all grown up a lot over the past 10 years," Duffy said. "It's fantastic that I am an openly gay writer."

It certainly is fantastic. I raise a pint of lukewarm British brew to her.

The annual salary for the gig is about $8,500, which Duffy said she plans to give to the Poetry Society to fund a prize for the best collection published each year. She also stands to receive a "butt of sack." Whatever you're guessing that is, you're wrong. It's about 600 bottles of sherry. Really.

"Andrew (Motion) hasn't had his yet so I've asked for mine up front," said Duffy. Very sensible.

Duffy said once that she is "not a lesbian poet, whatever that is." She added, "If I am a lesbian icon and a role model, that's great, but if it is a word that is used to reduce me, then you have to ask why someone would want to reduce me?"

The Bisexual Index, which describes itself as "a UK activism group fighting bisexual invisibility," used the above quote in a press release to prove that Duffy is bisexual, not lesbian. That seems to me to be a convenient misunderstanding of her words, but there's no doubt Duffy has dallied with both men and women.

However she thinks of herself, she's definitely a member of the GLBT community, and by virtue of her new exalted position, a trailblazer. The way things are going she'll have more company in 2009, as other openly Sapphic gals around the world break through in politics, religion, the arts, and other areas. I'd say you can bet a butt of sack or a sack of butt on it.