“Youth of the Union” conference brings young progressives to U of H

Rep. Jessica Farrar, keynote speaker at the Youth of the Union Conference

While much attention has been paid to the contribution of the youth vote in President Obama’s 2008 victory, there’s been less recognition of the effect it had in other elections. “In 2008 young voters came out in record numbers for progressive candidates,” says Brad Pritchett, one of the organizers behind this Saturday’s “Youth of the Union” conference at the University of Houston. “When young people are engaged on the issues and empowered to vote, they will.”

In Harris County that 2008 youth surge contributed to the election of Texas’ first out elected LGBT judge, Steven Kirkland, and helped turn 14 of the county’s 26 Texas House districts Democratic. Pritchett says that, while it’s easy to focus on the presidential races, judicial and legislative seats on the ballot in 2012 are crucial to progressive issues like LGBT equality and will be largely determined by whether or not the young people who came out in 2008 return to the polls this year.

The Youth of the Union Conference is sponsored by a number of Democratic Party organizations, including the National Stonewall Democrats, an LGBT Democratic club, but is designed for young progressives across the across the spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities. The conference kicks off at 11 am Saturday, February 4, at the University of Houston’s University Center with a “young and involved” panel and includes workshops on becoming a Democratic delegate, influencing the party platform, the effect of recent photo ID legislation and more.

State Representative Jessica Farrar, who last year introduced legislation to repeal Texas’ unconstitutional law criminalizing “Homosexual Conduct” is the keynote speaker. Farrar was just 27 years old when she was first elected to the Texas House in 1994.

Pritchett says that registration is closed but that a limited number of “at-the-door” registrations are available on a first come first served basis.

For more information visit youthoftheunion.com.

—  admin

Same-sex marriage returns to political spotlight

Issue could appear on ballot in as many as 6 states this year

NEW YORK — Same-sex marriage is back in the political spotlight and likely to remain there through Election Day in November as a half-dozen states face potentially wrenching votes on the issue.

In New Hampshire, Republicans who now control the legislature are mulling whether to repeal the 2009 law legalizing same-sex marriage. Their state is one of six with such laws, along with Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont, as well as the capital district of Washington.

In Maryland, New Jersey and Washington state, bills to legalize same-sex marriage have high-powered support and good chances of passage in the legislature. Gay-marriage opponents in Maryland and Washington would likely react by seeking referendums in November to overturn those laws, while New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, says he’ll veto the bill if it reaches him and prefers that lawmakers OK a referendum so voters can decide.

In all three states, polls suggest voters are closely divided on whether gays should have the right to marry, so there’s a chance one could emerge as the first state to support same-sex marriage in a statewide vote.

Three of the remaining Republican presidential contenders, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, have signed a National Organization for Marriage pledge opposing same-sex marriage and endorsing a federal constitutional amendment to ban it. But it’s not among the topics prominent in the stump speeches of Romney or Newt Gingrich, the two front-runners.

On the Democratic side, President Barack Obama has taken several steps during his first term that have pleased gay-rights advocates, but says he is still “evolving” in regard to same-sex marriage and isn’t ready to endorse it. Some activists hope he will do so before the election, though there’s been no strong hint of that from the White House.

“Obama will get asked about it, and you can’t straddle both sides of this forever,” said Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House adviser on gay rights. “Clearly he’s not going to retreat, so he only has one place to go, and I think he will do it before the election.”

Maine voters also may have an opportunity to vote for same-sex marriage in November; gay-rights activists announced Thursday they are moving forward with a ballot-measure campaign, submitting more than 105,000 signatures to the Secretary of State. Proposed amendments for constitutional bans on gay marriage will be on the ballots in North Carolina on May 8 and in Minnesota on Nov. 6.

Added together, the state-level showdowns will likely raise the prominence of the marriage issue in the presidential campaign, even though it’s not a topic that the leading candidates tend to broach proactively.

Another potential factor: Judgments could be issued during the campaign in one or more of several pending federal court cases about same-sex marriage. Appeals could result in the issue heading toward the Supreme Court, and the presidential candidates would be expected to comment on any major development.

In all the showdown states, national advocacy groups are expected to be active on both sides. The Human Rights Campaign, for example, has promised to provide funding, strategic advice and field staff for the various campaigns supporting same-sex marriage.

On the other side, the National Organization for Marriage is vowing a multistate effort, including promises of financial support in the primaries to defeat any Republican lawmakers who support gay marriage in Washington.

Though several major national polls now show that a slight majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown predicts his side will continue its winning streak and prevail in any state referendums that are held this November.

“There’s a myth that history is on a trajectory moving toward same-sex marriage,” Brown said. “There is no such momentum.”

—  John Wright

Stonewall Democrats to host watch party for SOTU, which will include 2 special lesbian guests

Ginger Wallace, left, and Lorelei Kilker

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas will host its second annual watch party at the Brick tonight during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address.

The Washington Blade reports that two lesbians are among those who’ve been invited to sit in first lady Michelle Obama’s gallery during the address. They are Lorelei Kilker, an analytical chemist from Colorado who was involved in a landmark sex discrimination case against her employer; and Air Force Col. Ginger Wallace, who’s training to deploy to Afghanistan and is the first service member to have a same-sex partner participate in a pinning-on promotion ceremony.

Others who’ll be sitting in the first lady’s gallery include San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who has served as grand marshal of the city’s gay Pride parade and who recently signed a pledge in support of same-sex marriage.

The Blade also takes a look at the question of whether Obama will endorse same-sex marriage — or otherwise mention LGBT issues — during his speech.

Stonewall’s watch party begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Brick, 2525 Wycliff, Suite 120.

Read the White House’s bios of Castro, Kilker and Wallace after the jump.

—  John Wright

Tea party group makes surprising endorsement

The tea party is certainly not one unified political organization. And as a group the tea party has not backed any one particular GOP presidential candidate. While many supported Michele Bachmann, there’s been no consensus. But most tea party support has gone to Republicans and most tea party candidates have run as Republicans.

President Barack Obama

But one Tea Party endorsement is surprising. A group has formed called Tea Party for Obama.

Huh?

Well, they explain.

“We manned up and realized that the problem is that the recession began during the previous administration,” they wrote.

They wrote that they’re tired of being called nut jobs and racists and looked at all the candidates and found no one to support on the Republican side. So they looked at Barack Obama’s record.

Reducing the size of government and the amount people pay in taxes are two main tea party demands.

Just a few weeks ago, the president proposed combining agencies to reduce the size of government and make it easier to do business with the government.

And taxes?

“Last time we checked, Obama forced GOP in Congress to approve tax cuts for payroll,” they wrote.

Here’s Tea Party for Obama’s list of the president’s accomplishments:

• Reduced government size
• Largest tax cut ever
• Provided health care for everyone
• Protected Medicare
• Saved country from the worst recession ever
• Saved the U.S. auto industry
• Took out Osama bin Laden

So is this an actual tea party group or is this a group of Democrats co-opting the tea party name for attention? The website doesn’t give a clue because no names or other information is included.

—  David Taffet

Gary Johnson slams both Obama and Santorum on gay rights, will appear in Grapevine in Feb.

Gary Johnson

For those who’ve been watching the GOP presidential debates on TV and wishing they could attend one in person, here’s your chance. Well, sorta. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the Texas Libertarian Party will host a presidential debate in Grapevine on Feb. 25. The debate is open to the public, and among the candidates who’ve confirmed their participation is former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

Johnson dropped out of the Republican race last month and filed as a libertarian. And, unlike some other so-called libertarians who are still seeking the GOP nomination, Johnson actually supports same-sex marriage. In fact, Johnson sent out a press release just the other day in which he managed to slam both President Barack Obama and anti-gay GOP candidate Rick Santorum for their positions on LGBT equality (alas, “at least [Santorum] is consistent”). We’re not sure why Johnson left out Ron Paul, but here’s an excerpt:

“Rick Santorum’s position is unconstitutional. The Constitution requires that all citizens be treated equally and makes no reference to gender in assuring those equal rights,” said Johnson. “By any fair measure, equal access to marriage for all Americans is a right — guaranteed by the Constitution. Senator Santorum’s claim that legally recognizing gay marriage would be no different than legalizing polygamy, child molestation or bestiality is repugnant and insulting to millions of gay Americans,” said the former New Mexico Governor.

Johnson had equally harsh criticism for President Barack Obama. “The New York Times reports that while President Obama gives lip service to gay equality, the President will not support gay marriage before the election because of the opposition of African Americans, as reflected in his polling, and the need to assure maximum support from African American voters in November,” said Johnson. “Instead the President sends out surrogates to imply that he will support gay marriage in a second term.

“President Obama did the same kind of dance around the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’. He promised to repeal it in his campaign, then dragged his feet on repealing it as President, even sending the Justice Department’s lawyers into court to defend it. Then when ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was finally repealed by Congress, he claimed victory and a promise fulfilled.

“As for Rick Santorum, at least he is consistent. He not only opposed the repeal of DADT, he has promised to return our military to the Dark Ages and reinstate it, and claims that repealing such a discriminatory policy has somehow been ‘detrimental’ to gays.

“I, for one, am tired of seeing candidates for president – including the President himself, play political games with people’s lives and happiness. Perhaps it’s time for a president who leads based upon principle instead of polls,” he said.

—  John Wright

The show goes on

Partners in life and in business, Darryl Allara and Ken Freehill travel the world staging theatrical productions for the Army. And they have seen a difference since the end of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Inside-3

OUT ON BASE | Partners Ken Freehill and Darryl Allara have never hidden their sexual orientation or the fact that they are a couple from the military officials with whom they work. But the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ has made things less tense in many military communities, they say. (Photo Courtesy Darryl Allara and Ken Freehill)

David Webb  |  Contributing Writer
davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com

The end of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was a long time in coming — not only for the estimated 65,000 gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. Armed Services, but also for others engaged in little-known, supportive roles for active-duty personnel.

Dallas show business couple Darryl Allara and Ken Freehill, who tour the globe as civilian contractors for U.S. Army Entertainment, were as relieved as anyone else last fall when President Barack Obama officially recognized the end of the 18-year-old discriminatory policy. The life partners quietly cheered the Department of Defense memo released Sept. 20 lifting the ban on homosexuality, knowing it would provide a new sense of freedom for both them and the gay and lesbian soldiers they encounter on military installations.

“I think that in the communities we’ve been in, things are less tense,” said Freehill during an interview at their East Dallas home recently while the couple took a holiday break from 202 days on the road in 2011.

“I think maybe those people in the past who may have felt reluctant to talk to us now feel more comfortable in approaching us,” he added.

At the military installations Allara and Freehill visit, there are ample opportunities for one-on-one conversations with soldiers. Both men are judges for the U.S. Army’s Festival of Arts, and in a separate contractual project they stage Murder 101, an interactive comedy tailored to each base using soldiers and their family members and base civilian employees as actors.

“When we walk into a room, there is so much enthusiasm from everyone,” said Freehill, who has 30 years of experience as a director, producer, writer and actor and currently performs in one-man plays locally.

In staging the murder mystery dinner theater productions, the couple meets with volunteers who are interested in performing, assigns them roles, conducts rehearsals, markets the production, directs the shows and appears in the performances — all in one week’s time. It’s a  challenging task with a taxing schedule that they’ve mastered and carried out for 10 years now.

“We’ve been very mission-oriented, bringing theater to where it doesn’t exist,” said Allara, who received a U.S. Army scholarship that led to a degree in theatrical producing and directing after he ended a tour as a medic in Vietnam in 1969.

“By the time the week is over it looks like we’ve been working with them for a month,” Allara said.

Before the ban was lifted, it was a complex situation for Allara and Freehill, who in their roles entertaining, training and evaluating soldiers and their families weren’t subject to the provisions of the military prohibition on being openly gay. They wanted to be honest about themselves, yet not detract from the mission of their work.

“I did feel the policy had to be respected, because we never wanted to put a soldier in an awkward position, and we never wanted to cause anyone to be uncomfortable,” Allara said. “Our whole mission is to bring joy to everyone.”

Even so, the couple knew people would figure out they weren’t the rank-and-file type of civilian workers that soldiers expect to see on military bases, Allara noted.

“We have never encountered overt discrimination,” Allara said. “By the same token, we have never hidden who we are. It’s not a subject we initiate, but we’ve had soldiers talk to us about it.”

Freehill said that during 2011 while the Pentagon implemented the repeal of DADT and conducted related training for military personnel the couple traveled to 37 military installations for 50 events on three continents. They completed their work without experiencing any of the types of discriminatory incidents many naysayers warned would happen in the military if Congress lifted the ban, he said.

“People figure out in short order we’re a couple, and not just a theatrical partnership,” said Freehill, who points out they have been a couple for 32 years. “They see us together. We don’t make a big deal out of it. But they aren’t dumb.”

Freehill said they have always been careful not to give anyone the wrong impression.

“We are not on the make, and we don’t give that vibe off,” Freehill said. “Everyone feels secure. We are never alone with anyone.”

Allara said his experiences with the military have, for the most part, always been positive and no more discriminatory than in any other walk of life.

As a helicopter medic in Vietnam, he got his first taste of show business when he produced theatrical shows for fellow soldiers using what he had learned at a base playhouse during basic training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

“For lack of a better word it was a M*A*S*H unit, and I was my unit’s Radar O’Reilly,” said Allara, who noted he “screamed all the way” when he was forced to abandon his company clerk duties and fly in the helicopters to combat zones.

Allara said that deplorable conditions in Vietnam inspired him to take on the staging of a show and probably encouraged fellow soldiers to welcome it.

For one show he requisitioned six jeeps and drivers for the use of their headlights in a theatrical production. A stage was fashioned out of an old flatbed truck.

“We had a terrible morale problem,” Allara said. “We were looking for diversion. We needed to find a way to bond everyone together.”

Rather than getting court-martialed for the jeep stunt as he feared might happen, Allara’s amateur shows, including Sorry Wrong Number, brought him praise and requests for productions at other locations, including a production of Stop the World; I Want to Get Off.

Those efforts eventually led to his Army-sponsored scholarship to theatrical school in San Diego.

Allara said it is ironic that his theatrical work in the Army led to his lifelong career because he had no interest in theater in high school. The U.S. military has sponsored entertainment programs for personnel since World War II, and most bases had theatrical playhouses before television viewing became the most popular form of entertainment.

“When I was drafted I had no thoughts about theater at all,” Allara said. “I was picked on as a kid, and standing in front of people performing was the last thing I wanted to do.”

Later, Allara attended graduate school at the University of Arizona where Freehill was an undergraduate, but they never met. Oddly, they discovered later they had participated on a theatrical production at the same time, and they have a playbill with both of their names listed to verify it.

The couple later met in Los Angeles on a theatrical production and became lovers. For a while they operated a show business school together before relocating to Dallas, where Freehill took a job as executive director for the Screen Actors Guild.

It was about that time 17 years ago when Allara resumed his association with the military, accepting a job as a traveling second judge for the Army Festival of the Arts, a 40-year-old organization. The senior judge for the organization with whom Allara worked on a Bicentennial show in 1976 sought him out for the position.

“You meet people in life,” Allara said. “They go out of your life and then they come back.”

When about five years later the senior judge retired, Allara knew he didn’t have to look far for a new second judge. The Screen Actors Guild had relocated from Dallas to another city, leaving Freehill without a job.

So he joined the Army, too, so to speak.

About 10 years ago Allara and Freehill began staging their murder mystery productions for the Army. They first had designed and produced the mystery shows in Los Angeles, and they tried them out on military audiences with success.

An early production took place in Fort Campbell, Ky., where they still command great respect from base officials, volunteers and audiences, according to Linda Howle, director of the base recreation center.

“They are amazing, and they are fantastic,” said Howle in a telephone interview. “They are very creative. Every time I have them here they do a wonderful job, and when they come back it is always an even better performance.”

Allara said one of the reasons that he and Freehill enjoy so much respect from military officials is that they have a reputation for making sure the show will go on, no matter what. Their sexual orientation seems to have mattered little, if any at all, to Army officials in charge of military entertainment.

“They know they have two theater specialists they can send anywhere in the world,” Allara said.

About 15 years ago, Allara said, he met with a commanding officer who wanted to hire him, and he told the official about his relationship with Freehill.

“I knew they were rounding up soldiers and prosecuting them,” Allara said. “I told him I didn’t want it to bite him in the ass later. He thanked me for telling him.”

Allara said one of the reasons he and Freehill work together well as a romantic and a professional couple is that it is also economically advantageous to them. The Army pays them a flat fee for their work, from which all expenses must be deducted, and the arrangement of staying together on trips allows them to save money.

“We are able to keep rates really low for the Army because we share accommodations,” Allara said.

Fees for Allara’s and Freehill’s contracts come from discretionary funds raised by the Army from ticket sales and other enterprise activity, not from tax dollars, according to the show business couple.

The couple said the only hint of discrimination they ever felt during their travels for the military was when hotel staff asked if they wouldn’t prefer separate beds or rooms. Although they’ve never lost a military contract because of their sexual orientation, they did lose a couple in Los Angeles years ago because of it, they said.

“Discrimination is everywhere,” Allara said.  “It doesn’t have to be in the military.”

Allara said that as a combat veteran he sees the greatest benefit of the new policy to gay and lesbian soldiers to be the security of being part or a team, not the advantage of freedom of expression and social acceptance.

“They now will be able to serve their country without worrying about their backs in addition to the enemy in front of them,” Allara said.

For Allara and Freehill, life will continue much as it has for the past decade, together night and day except for when they are out of town on separate judging assignments. It seems natural to wonder whether they might enjoy the occasional break from each other’s company, but that is apparently not the case.

“It’s lonely,” Freehill said. “I admit it. We usually can’t wait to get home to be in each other’s company.”

Allara said that they often debate many subjects related to their work, but they always agree on how they feel about returning home to the company of the best audience anyone could have — the three dogs they rescued.

“It’s like dying and going to heaven for us,” Allara said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Gay GOP leader says he’d vote for Santorum

Schlein’s comments stand in contrast to statements from national LGBT Republican groups

Rob.Schlein.color.4

Rob Schlein

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Political Writer
wright@dallasvoice.com

Local gay Republican leader Rob Schlein ignited controversy in August by declaring that he’d vote for Texas Gov. Rick Perry over President Barack Obama if Perry wins the GOP nomination, despite the governor’s anti-gay record.

Schlein, president of Metroplex Republicans of Dallas, went a step further this week when he said he’d even support former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum over Obama if Santorum turns out to be the GOP nominee.

Santorum, who has famously compared same-sex marriage to man-dog marriage and is widely considered the most anti-gay candidate in the race, finished in a virtual tie atop this week’s Iowa caucuses with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Schlein said although Metroplex Republicans doesn’t plan to make an endorsement in the GOP race, he now personally supports Romney. But he added that he would vote for Santorum over Obama, even though he doesn’t believe Santorum has any chance of winning the nomination.

“We’re going to all vote for the Republican, no matter who it is, even Rick Santorum,” Schlein said of his group’s members during an interview with Dallas Voice about the Iowa results. “We have to focus right now like a laser beam on the one issue that matters today, and that’s getting the economic house in order. Any Republican, including Rick Santorum, will do a better job than Barack Obama on the economy. It doesn’t matter what anti-LGBT positions he’s taken in the past.”

Schlein’s statements last year about supporting Perry were one factor that led National Log Cabin Republicans to de-charter the group’s Dallas chapter, in which Schlein served as president. And Schlein’s comments about Santorum this week stood in stark contrast to statements from both National Log Cabin and GOProud responding to the Iowa results.

Log Cabin Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper said in a statement issued Wednesday, Jan. 4, that Santorum rose to the top of the caucuses by appealing to “a uniquely socially conservative electorate.”

“As the nomination process moves forward, Log Cabin Republicans suggest all of the candidates reject Santorum’s politics of division and win by focusing on the issues that matter most to Americans — jobs and the economy,” Cooper said. “If using gay and lesbian Americans as a wedge can’t score enough political points to win more than 25 percent in Iowa, it certainly won’t help the Republican nominee in November.”

Asked to respond to Schlein’s comments, the president of the newly rechartered Dallas chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, Thomas Purdy, called Santorum “a bad candidate for president for many reasons.”

“Pandering to social conservatives as Santorum has done does not represent a party that champions individual liberty, and nominating Santorum would hurt the GOP by turning off moderates, independents and younger voters,” Purdy said.

GOProud, meanwhile, conspicuously omitted any reference to Santorum from the group’s statement on the Iowa results, instead congratulating only Romney and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, R-Lake Jackson, who finished third.

“While there are certainly big differences between Governor Romney and Congressman Paul, especially when it comes to foreign policy, both chose to emphasize issues like the economy and the size of government over demonizing gay people,” GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia said. “We are pleased to see that so many Republicans in Iowa are focused on the issues that unite us as conservatives, instead of the side show issues.”

Schlein’s decision to invite LaSalvia to speak at what was then the Log Cabin chapter’s annual dinner in November was another factor that prompted the national Log Cabin group to oust him. Asked directly this week whether he would support Santorum if he’s the nominee, LaSalvia said in an email, “Asking me if I would support Rick Santorum if he’s the Republican nominee is like asking me if I would support Kim Kardashian if she’s the nominee — they both have about the same chance of getting the nomination!”

Omar Narvaez, president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, declined to directly address Schlein’s comments about Santorum.

“I don’t personally know Rob Schlein,” Narvaez said. “Stonewall Democrats of Dallas is committed [to] and focused on re-electing President Barack Obama regardless of who the Republican nominee is.”

Earlier, Narvaez said he was glad Perry had chosen not to drop out of the race, despite the governor’s disappointing fifth-place finish in Iowa. Narvaez said the more candidates stay in, the more difficult it will be for any one of them to pull away.

“They’re not cohesive in any way,” Narvaez said of the GOP, “and I think the longer they can’t decide who they are, what they’re trying to do, is better for Democrats everywhere.

“The more they tear each other apart and in-fight and can’t get along, it’s better for Democrats,” he added. “They’re just giving us all the ammunition we’re going to need to fight them later.”

Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, issued a statement Wednesday morning rejoicing in Perry’s poor showing in Iowa, denouncing his “homophobic pandering” and predicting that he “will not be the next president of the United States.”

“Governor Perry’s homophobic pandering did not resonate with Iowa voters just as it does not resonate in Texas,” Equality Texas said in its statement. “As Governor Perry returns to Texas to reflect on his campaign, it is our hope at Equality Texas that he will also reflect on what Texans really want for their state. … It is time our governor recognize that homophobia and transphobia have no place in our great state and he should join in the effort to eradicate them from all public policy.”

After Perry announced that he would remain in the race, Equality Texas Deputy Director Chuck Smith told Dallas Voice he believes the governor’s campaign for president could ultimately benefit the LGBT community in his home state.

“It’s easy to show that most people don’t believe that,” Smith said of Perry’s anti-gay views. “He’s at a level of vitriol toward gay people that simply isn’t shared by most people. It potentially broadens the spectrum of Republicans who might be able to come out and say, ‘I don’t go that far.’ … If he gets so extreme that members of his own party feel the need to disavow him, that can only help us.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

TOP 10: Gays began serving openly in U.S. military

DADT

KISSING DADT GOODBYE | Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta, left, kisses her girlfriend, Citlalic Snell, at a Navy base in Virginia Beach, Va., on Dec. 22. According to Navy tradition, one lucky sailor is chosen to be first off the ship for the long-awaited kiss with a loved one. This time, for the first time, the happily reunited couple was gay. (Associated Press)

No 1:

Legislation to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” passed Congress last year and was signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 22, 2010.

But 2011 was the year of implementation.

While other countries that changed policies about gays and lesbians serving in the armed forces recommended a quick implementation, the U.S. chose a slow, methodical approach.

Before repeal went into effect, the defense secretary, chairman of the joint chiefs and president had to certify that the military was ready for implementation.

Among the delays in implementing the repeal was to give the Pentagon time to change regulations and benefits, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Next, training materials had to be prepared and, finally, 2.2 million troops had to be trained. In February, the military announced some of its plans.

The idea of building separate bathroom facilities was rejected and personnel wouldn’t be given the option of refusing to serve with gays and lesbians.

The Navy announced its training schedule to be complete by June 30.

Support for the repeal grew and came from some surprising sources.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even announced: “We know that gays and lesbians have been serving in the military for decades with honorable service. We know that [repeal] is an idea whose time has
come.”

As implementation progressed, conservative members of Congress continued to try to derail it. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have required all four service chiefs to certify that DADT repeal wouldn’t hurt the military’s readiness.

Another amendment by Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss, would require the military to “accommodate” servicemembers who believe that “homosexual or bisexual conduct is immoral and/or an inappropriate expression of human sexuality.”

The Navy previously announced that it would allow same-sex weddings on bases in states where it’s legal.

In May, it reversed course saying that the Defense of Marriage Act precluded it from allowing chaplains to perform marriages for gay and lesbian servicemembers on base.

As certification approached, the Pentagon made it clear that same-sex spouses of military personnel would not be recognized and would receive none of the benefits opposite-sex spouses receive.

On July 22, Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen certified that the U.S. military was ready for DADT repeal.

Repeal would be final 60 days from certification.

On Sept. 20 gays and lesbians could serve openly, if not equally, in the military. Members of the military began coming out without fear of expulsion, but those who had same-sex spouses were still not given 40 benefits that opposite-sex couples enjoy.

Those benefits include healthcare for the spouse and housing allowances that can be substantial.

Even if the couple has children, the spouse cannot be issued an identification card to get on base with the military member’s child for healthcare and cannot access the base attorney to write wills and other papers normally drawn up before an overseas deployment.

Servicemembers dismissed under DADT began to consider re-enlisting.

Cully Johnson, an owner of Dallas Eagle, said at a Sept. 20 DADT repeal celebration that he would like to return to complete his military career.

Although gays and lesbians can now serve without fear of dismissal or rebuke, the ban on transgenders serving remains in effect.

More than 14,000 men and women were discharged under DADT during its 18-year existence with some estimates of the cost to taxpayers running as high as $700 million.

— David Taffet

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Still no single clear leader in Republican presidential contest

Romney often under fire from conservatives for changing positions on issues including LGBT rights

Romney.Mitt.2

Mitt Romney

STEVEN R. HURST  |  Associated Press
editor@dallasvoice.com

WASHINGTON — Republicans are growing significantly less satisfied with the field of candidates to challenge President Barack Obama next year, and they are about evenly split in their support for Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds.

Despite Obama’s low approval ratings and deep vulnerability over his handling of the U.S. economy, the poll of all people surveyed, including Democrats and independents, found Romney and the president statistically even. Obama leads Gingrich 51 percent to 42 percent.

With three weeks remaining before the Iowa caucus, the first contest where voters actually declare their choice of a candidate, Romney’s argument that his Washington outsider status sets him apart has not blocked Gingrich’s stunning climb to the top of the field.

A similar AP-GfK poll of Republicans in October found Gingrich well behind the leading candidates, with 7 percent. Romney had 30 percent.

The new poll conducted earlier this month finds Gingrich preferred by 33 percent of Republicans and Romney by 27 percent. However, that finding falls just within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points.

Gingrich,Newt

Newt Gingrich

All other candidates are in single digits.

The poll also found a considerable drop in satisfaction with the overall Republican field. In October, 66 percent of Republican adults were satisfied, and 29 percent unsatisfied. Now, 56 percent are satisfied and 40 percent unsatisfied.

Voter preferences in early voting states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina do not necessarily match those in national polls. The Iowa caucus is Jan. 3. The New Hampshire primary is one week later.

At a time when polls show plummeting public approval of government, the 68-year-old Gingrich has a long history in the capital as a member of Congress, speaker of the House of Representatives and, since 1998, a lucrative, Washington-based consultant, speaker and author.

Except for four years as Massachusetts governor, Romney, 64, has spent his career in business and management. He ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1994 and for president in 2008.

Both men have earned millions of dollars over the years.  Romney has built his campaign largely on the argument that his business background makes him better suited for the presidency than anyone else, especially on creating jobs in an economy where unemployment remains at 8.6 percent. But in a recent debate in Iowa, Romney at first struggled to name issues on which he and Gingrich disagree.

After citing Gingrich’s support for a mining colony on the moon and changes to child labor laws, Romney said: “The real difference, I believe, is our backgrounds. I spent my life in the private sector. I understand how the economy works.”

Among Republicans who say they prefer a non-Washington candidate, Romney has a modest edge over Gingrich. Gingrich has a larger advantage among those who say they prefer Washington experience in a nominee.

Romney’s better showing in a head-to-head matchup with Obama may give him some ammunition with Republicans whose top priority is ousting the president. Otherwise, Republicans appear to see Romney and Gingrich as similar in many important ways. The two men polled about evenly on the questions of who would be a strong leader, has the right experience, understands ordinary people’s problems and can bring needed change. Romney holds a clear edge on who is most likable. Gingrich leads on the question of who “has firm policy positions.” Romney is often asked about his changed positions on abortion, gay rights, gun control and immigration. Gingrich, however, also has shifted views on key issues.

AP Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Clinton makes history with speech to the U.N.

Secretary of State calls on all nations to make sure LGBTs are treated with respect, dignity; president directs agencies to protect LGBT rights

GREETING THE CROWD  |  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, shakes hands after her speech on human rights issues at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva on Tuesday, Dec 6. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press)

GREETING THE CROWD | U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, shakes hands after her speech on human rights issues at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva on Tuesday, Dec 6. (Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press)

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@me.com

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an historic speech on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in Geneva, called on the governments of all nations to ensure that their LGBT citizens are treated with respect and dignity.

Her speech came shortly after the White House Press Office released a statement announcing that President Barack Obama had issued a memorandum directing the State Department to lead an interagency group to provide a “swift and meaningful response” by the U.S. government to “serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT persons abroad.”

The memorandum and speech represent a dramatic escalation in the Obama administration’s support for the human rights and respectful treatment of LGBT people worldwide.

President Obama’s memorandum directs federal agencies involved with dispensing aid and assistance to foreign countries to “enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure regular federal government engagement with governments, citizens, civil society and the private sector in order to build respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.”

It also directs federal agencies to ensure that LGBT people seeking asylum or status as refugees have “equal access” to protections. And it calls on agencies engaged in activities in other countries to “strengthen existing efforts to effectively combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBT status or conduct and to expand efforts to combat discrimination, homophobia and intolerance on the basis of LGBT status or conduct.”

A senior State Department official, who on the condition that he or she not be identified, told a group of reporters en route to Geneva Tuesday that the administration had “instructed ambassadors to challenge laws that criminalize LGBT status or conduct.”

“We’re putting some money into it,” said the official, of the memorandum’s aim. “We’re setting up a global equality fund, $3 million, to support [non-governmental organizational] activists working on this subject.”

The State Department released a transcript of the press briefing, including a question from a reporter who asked, “How does the administration reconcile the fact that the president won’t explicitly endorse marriage for gay couples at home, but here you are touting human rights, of which marriage is one?”

The official responded that Clinton’s speech in Geneva and the administration’s global policy on civil rights for LGBT people are “dealing with the first iteration of questions.”

“You don’t attack, you don’t commit a violent act, against somebody because of their sexual orientation. You don’t criminalize conduct,” said the official. “And so, we’re here, trying to, again, broadly speaking, identify a human right, a global human right, which starts with those fundamental principles and which is consistent with everything we’re doing across the board.”

The State Department official characterized the president’s memorandum and Clinton’s speech as “the most expansive articulation of what has … been a policy of the administration from the get-go.”

Clinton’s speech was delivered at the Palais at United Nations headquarters in Geneva to an audience of invited members. She spoke in recognition of the 63rd anniversary of Human Rights Day, coming up on Dec. 10, the date when the United Nations adopted a “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” in 1948. The speech, webstreamed live, took place before an audience of about 500 people that gave Clinton and her speech a prolonged and warm reception. But Clinton made clear she knew she was speaking to a tougher audience.

“Raising this issue, I know, is sensitive for many people,” said Clinton, “and that the obstacles standing in the way of protecting the human rights of LGBT people rest on deeply held person, political, cultural and religious beliefs. So, I come here before you with respect, understanding and humility.”

Clinton acknowledged that “my own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect,” noting that, “until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country.”

She even seemed to make an elliptical reference to President Obama’s famous statement that his opinion about same-sex marriages is “evolving.”But she said she is hopeful that “opinion will converge once again with the inevitable truth — all persons are created equal.”

She said that the “perhaps most challenging” argument against treating LGBT people with respect “arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate, or not to protect, the human rights of LGBT citizens.”

She likened such justifications to ones used against women and other minorities, adding that slavery, once justified as “sanctioned by God, is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.”

She closed her speech by telling LGBT people, “You are not alone. People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers that you face. … You have an ally in the United States of America.”

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens