East coast victories for LGBT candidates

While we’re waiting here in Houston for the results of today’s municipal elections the Victory Fund reports of victories for LGBT candidates on the East coast where polls closed an hour earlier than Texas.

State Del. Adam Ebbin (D-District 30) was elected to Virginia’s state Senate today, making him the Commonwealth’s first openly gay senator.

“I am honored by the trust the voters have showed in me,”  Ebbin said in a statement. “During the campaign, I listened to the voters’ concerns and will work on behalf of the values we all share: improving our public schools, expanding our transit system and cleaning up Virginia’s environment. I will make sure their voices are heard…”

“Alex Morse, a 22-year-old graduate of Brown University, has just been elected mayor of Holyoke, Mass., a city of nearly 40,000 residents near Springfield…”

“Zach Adamson has won his race for city council in Indianapolis, giving the city its first openly LGBT city council member.”

“An incumbent on the Largo, Fla., City Commission who attacked her openly gay opponent over his sexual orientation has lost her reelection bid to him tonight. Michael Smith defeated Mary Gray Black, who has a history of anti-gay and anti-trans activism on the commission.”

—  admin

COVER STORY: Butch Voices

Q-Roc Ragsdale, from left, Eva Rivera, Michelle Paris and Theresa Strong.

‘Masculine of center’ women say that, all labels aside, it’s about being comfortable and confident in being yourself — whoever you are

TAMMYE NASH  | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

At 53, Theresa Strong is used to being called “sir.” She’s accustomed to the double-takes when she uses a public restroom. She’s used to the stares. None of it bothers her.

“I’m very comfortable with who I am. I have been a tomboy all my life,” Strong says.

In “the old days,” Strong would have been called a “butch.” Although some people still use that term, today it’s more common to hear “stud,” instead. At least, in some places.

The terminology varies from region to region, from culture to culture, even from race to race, says Q-Roc Ragsdale, a Dallas lesbian who, like Strong, is considered a “stud.”

Ragsdale, who works with the group that stages the national Butch Voices conference, says that here in North Texas terms like “aggressive,” “dominant,” “boi,” “tomboy” and “macha” are common, depending on where you live and your cultural background. And then there are the “degrees” of butch: “hard stud,” “soft stud,” and so on.

But whatever label you use, Radsdale says, its about a “masculine of center” identity that is a natural state for some women but that, at the same time, can put them at odds with the society around them.

“It’s not male; it’s masculine. There’s a difference,” Ragsdale says. “A lot of people don’t understand the difference between sex and gender. Gender is so fluid. It’s a spectrum. … There are woman-identified butches, trans-identified butches. Some use male pronouns and some use female pronouns. Some are just butch in presentation. Some don’t like gender roles, and some live gender roles.

“You can’t make assumptions. You can’t generalize. Our community is so diverse, just like any other community,” Ragsdale says.

Challenges

But one thing most masculine of center women share, she adds, is a sense of living outside the mainstream. And that can often leave them facing many disadvantages.
Butch Voices aims to help correct those disadvantages with its three-pronged mission focusing on physical and mental health, social and economic justice and community building.

As a masculine of center woman, “there are just so many different social norms that you challenge,” Ragsdale says. “You challenge gender norms. You challenge the mainstream notion of lesbians.” And those challenges can sometimes make life difficult.

When that happens, Ragsdale says, it can affect a person’s mental health. “Butch women often have to go through a double coming out. They have to come out as lesbians, then they have to come out again as butch women. Depending on where you live, geographically, that can be hard, and it can affect a person’s mental health,” she says.

Lesbians in general often don’t have the same access to health care, and it can be even more pronounced for butch women.

“It’s very uncomfortable sitting in that waiting room with a lot of women, and then they call your name and all the other women are looking at you, wondering why ‘that dude’ is there,” Ragsdale says. “And it’s hard for a lot of butch women to have the kind of conversations they need to have with a doctor.”

She cites, as an example, trying to explain to a doctor why she wouldn’t agree to taking birth control pills, which can be used to control menstruation as well as to avoid pregnancy.

“I had a girlfriend who went on birth control once, and it made her breasts bigger. [As a stud], I don’t want my breasts to be bigger. It’s hard to explain that to a doctor who is not understanding me and my relationship with my body,” Ragsdale says.

It’s even more conflicting for women in the category that used to be referred to as “stone butch.” A lot of butches, Ragsdale says, “don’t want anybody at all ‘down there,’ whether it be a partner or otherwise.”

Women who don’t fit traditional gender stereotypes also often find themselves unemployed or under-employed, especially when they are unwilling to compromise on their identity or gender presentation, Ragsdale says.

“I have a mentor in her early 50s who has always been butch, and even she has advised me that ‘you need to femme it up’ to get a job or keep a job. Personally, I am against that. I won’t do it. But I know a lot of people who do it, a lot of teachers especially,” Ragsdale says.

And then there’s that third prong of the Butch Voices mission: building community.

“We are working to create an environment where everyone can be themselves and still get the kind of health care and work they want and need,” Ragsdale explains. “A lot of that work is about awareness. There is a lot of mystery surrounding the butch identity; it’s plagued with so many stereotypes. That’s why I always encourage people to have the courage to ask questions.

“A lot of people are deterred from asking questions because they don’t understand us. But if they’d take the time to get to know us on a personal level, it would make a big difference,” she adds. “And that’s not just in the mainstream community. I think there are a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about butches in the lesbian community, too. We have to start at home, in our own community. To the lesbians who don’t get it, who don’t understand us, well, I say just know that we are still women, still lesbians, still part of your community.”

Even among the masculine of center community itself, Ragsdale acknowledges, there are differences. “Every butch, every stud is different,” she says. “Sometimes people get caught up in labels. It’s like the word ‘dyke.’ Some people have reclaimed ‘dyke.’ Others hate the word. What I say to them is, at what point do we stop worrying about the semantics and just get things done? We have to celebrate all our identities and work for all the community and not spend time debating the labels.”

Taking responsibility

But while masculine of center women face any number of challenges, that more masculine identity and presentation also “comes along with some male privilege,” Ragsdale says. And with that bit of male privilege comes responsibility.

“If you are a butch, or a stud, and you get that bit of male power and privilege, then you have a responsibility to use that power and privilege in the right way and not abuse it — not in your personal life, and not in the world,” she says.

And in the same vein, butch women need to pool that male power and privilege to work for positive change for the community as a whole.

“We have got to get our whole community more involved [in the battle for LGBT equality],” Ragsdale says. “If you go to a meeting or event for one of the more mainstream LGBT groups — like Lambda Legal or Human Rights Campaign — you’d be really hard pressed to find any butches or studs. Maybe that’s because the mainstream LGBT community looks down on us. But maybe it’s because we don’t try to be involved.

“We have to focus on mobilizing our base. We can’t sit around and cry about how we aren’t being included if we aren’t even bothering to show up in the first place,” Ragsdale says.

It’s personal

Ragsdale, like Strong, can trace her stud roots back to her childhood. She remembers her mother giving her a Barbie doll, when what she really wanted was the Ninja Turtles and the G.I. Joes her brother got. Still, she played with the Barbies, wanting to fit into the role her parents and society had mapped out for little girls.

Eventually though, Ragsdale came to terms first with her sexual orientation and later with her more masculine identity as a stud. It’s all about, she says, finding that comfort level that allows you to be who you are.

Eva Rivera and Michelle Paris both describe themselves as “soft butches.” While they may lean toward the more masculine end of the gender spectrum, that doesn’t mean they always ignore the more feminine accoutrement, like makeup or jewelry.

“I guess a soft stud is kind of a mixture of femme and stud,” Rivera says. “I am tomboyish. I always have been. I came out at 19, and the way I dressed then was sporty — you know, tennis shoes and baggy jeans. I never wore a dress, and I have always been attracted to feminine women.”

Being a stud is partly about the way a woman dresses and her mannerisms, Rivera says. “You take on a role. But we’re not all the same. Being a butch or a stud, being hard or soft or whatever — it’s just what makes you comfortable,” she adds.

Paris agrees: “I am a soft butch. That’s just the way I am. Underlying that is who I date. I like feminine women. And in a relationship, I am the more dominant one. But I don’t have to make a big deal of it.

“I am the same with everyone — family, friends, people I know, people I don’t know. I am the same; I am myself,” Paris continues. “When you see those women who are always trying to prove what studs they are, that’s because they have low self esteem. They make it more of an issue because they are trying to prove something, to themselves or to other people. Me, I don’t care. I am who I am.”

And that, says Strong, is at the core of the issue: Self-esteem and confidence and a sense of self that doesn’t rely on labels or clothes or mannerisms.

“You have to be comfortable with yourself. You have to be confident in yourself,” Strong says. “We [as masculine of center] women are so diverse. Everything that women are and do, we are and we do. My best friend is a stud, but she has a son, so she’s playing all the roles.

“The fact is, I dress the way I dress because it’s comfortable for me. You like who you like, and I like very feminine women. I am courting a woman right now and she is totally femme,” Strong adds. “This is who I am. I am not playing a role. This is just natural for me. We may be butch or studs or whatever word you want to use, but at the end of the day, we take off our clothes, and we’re still women. A lot of people forget that.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Senator Snowe Joins Other GOP Voices Supporting Repeal

It has been an incredible few weeks up here in Maine. Along with my fellow organizers, David Turley and Jeremy Kennedy, I have been working around the clock and braving cold New England temperatures to keep the pressure on Maine’s senators to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year.  We had a big breakthrough last night, when shortly after the House passed a standalone repeal bill, Senator Olympia Snowe announced her support of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  To have both of Maine’s Republican senators now in support of repeal is a wonderful testament  to the progress  made.

Last week we worked with the Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church in Portland, Maine. Eager parishioners, some of whom were military veterans, signed petitions and called their senator to urge them to support repeal. Over the last several weeks, we have generated an absolute blitz of constituent  phone calls and letters from all over the state.

It could have been the petitions, handwritten letters delivered by local veterans, phone calls and meetings that helped move the ball down the field. Whatever it was, Snowe’s announcement told me that we had been successful in delivering the message that Mainers overwhelmingly support repeal. Thank you for all of your hard work!

Joining veterans on a visit to Senator Snowe's office to deliver hundreds of letters and petitions

To see the work of volunteers, veterans and organizers pay off is among the most rewarding feelings. We are all so overwhelmed by this progress, but we can’t yet rest on our laurels yet. We’re now thanking the senators for their support, and urging them to keep up the pressure to bring this to a vote before the end of the 111th Congress.

Contact your friends,  family, and neighbors and ask them to call their Senators and do the same. No matter where you are, I hope that you will call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to connect you to your Senators. Urge them to support the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year.  If you’d like to volunteer with us in Maine, please contact Jessica Osborn at Jessica.osborn@hrc.org.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin

Your daily dose of Joel Burns

Ever since his “It Gets Better” speech, it seems not a day (or even an hour) goes by that we don’t hear something new about openly gay Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns. Today’s news comes from GayPolitics.com, which reports that Burns is the Victory Fund’s first endorsed candidate for 2011.

His powerful October speech about the suicides of young gay people, delivered in the chambers of the Fort Worth City Council, has been viewed nearly 2.5 million times on YouTube, prompting media outlets from across the country (and the world) to seek interviews to discuss the issue of anti-LGBT bullying.

Councilman Joel Burns has become a hero to LGBT youth who so desperately need role models — people who are successful and respected, but who are also open and honest about being gay.

Now Burns is also the first 2011 candidate to earn the Victory Fund’s endorsement. He’s running for re-election to represent District 9 on the Fort Worth City Council, and the Victory Fund is out to make sure he wins.

“Joel represents what the Victory Fund is all about — making sure LGBT voices are represented in government, and making sure we are heard,” said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund.

—  John Wright

HRC and SLDN Bring WV Veteran Voices to Senator Manchin

In West Virginia, we’re pulling out all the stops to show newly elect Senator Manchin that supporting the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is the right thing to do. Yesterday, veterans Pepe Johnson and Jared Towner joined SLDN staff member Jeremy Wilson to meet with the Senator’s staff in Washington, D.C. to discuss how DADT has affected each of them.

The group also delivered a video, which was collaboration between the Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers Legal Defense Network that highlighted the stories of Mountaineer veterans, straight and gay, from around the state.

Jared Towner, who has served three tours of duty in Iraq and is a West Virginia Young Democrat and former staffer for Manchin’s senate campaign, had this to say about yesterday’s meeting:

It was good to see my friends from the Repeal cause again today.  We met with Senator Manchin’s Legislative Aid Joe Ann McLaughlin and his military fellow Sylvia Pletos to talk about the absolute need to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” As a straight veteran who has served in combat, I am fully in support of repeal. I lobbied the late Senator Byrd before his historic vote to support repeal and I will keep fighting until we see the end of this discriminatory law.

While our audience at Senator Manchin’s office was engaged and responsive, we cannot rest on our laurels and assume that the vote is won. We must, as an active constituency, reassure Senator Manchin that his vote for the repeal is what’s best for WV and the nation as a whole.

I made my voice heard today, and I’m asking that you do the same. Please call his D.C. Office at (202) 224-3954 to urge Senator Manchin to support repeal. Our Senator needs to hear from you right now to ensure the end of this repressive and dangerous policy.

Do you live in the Charleston area? We need your help! Please contact me at Christine.Sloane@hrc.org to find out ways to get involved over the coming week. We simply can’t do this without you.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin

Voice of Pride winners Mi Diva Loca team with local band helloeARTh for YouTube covers

Mel Arizpe, right, of Mi Diva Loca just posted a video on her Facebook where she and her partner Laura Carrizales (and other half of Loca) teamed up with local band helloeARTh for a cover of Rihanna’s “Only Girl.” The band’s M.O. is to team up with local singers and rappers and perform a cover on video to post to YouTube. That’s the nutshell.

In this video, the sound’s a little rough, but MDL’s voices are a good match with the funksters playing. Initially, I thought it was a one-time thing, but then Arizpe told me they also recorded a video for a cover of Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You.” I thought ‘Oh, shiz,’ and was quick to search for it. It’s not too bad either, although the recording pulls in more of the music than the ladies’ voices. But when they start belting it out, it’s outta control. And by that I mean pretty priceless.

Both videos are below.

—  Rich Lopez

Watch: Voices Raised Over ‘DADT’ on Hardball, with Gay Vets Dan Choi and Alex Nicholson

Choi

Chris Matthews raises the hackles of Dan Choi, asking why no Republicans are on board with DADT repeal, and what the President could possibly do to help out.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP


Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

Interview Magazine – Stand Up for Your Rights: activists, organizers and political voices

You might recall that back in September, I blogged that I had to make a quick trip to NYC because I was selected to be part of a photo shoot and feature for Interview magazine‘s November issue. It’s on newstands now.

The article is called “Stand Up for Your Rights: activists, organizers and political voices” — it doesn’t appear to be on Interview‘s web site yet, though portions of the issue are up. The project is the brainchild of photographer David Mushegain and Dustin Lance Black, Academy Award winner for Best Original Screenplay in 2009 for “Milk,” and board member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

From Dustin Lance Black’s introduction:

Back in 1973, Harvey Milk said something that’s become one of my favorite quotes: “Masturbation can be fun, but it does not take the place of the real thing. It is about time that the gay community stopped playing with itself and get down to the real thing.”

From long-time organizer David Mixner’s bold call for a march on Washington in May 2009, to fellow activists Jones and Robin McGehee’s answer to that call in the face of Congressional opposition later that year; from openly gay serviceman Dan Choi chaining himself to the White House in March and April, to the American Foundation For Equal Rights’ move to fight Prop 8 at the federal level, rejecting the self-loathing sentiments behind a piecemeal approach, it’s clear the gay movement is shifting back Milk’s way.

In short, the LGBTQ movement is doing what no other movement has previously done. It’s emerged from a corporate culture and given birth to a new grass roots. But how can this new energy be captured in images or words? Inherent in the term grass roots is the notion that there is no single leader or prevailing philosophy. Instead, there are thousands of voices with differing points of view and strategies, often speaking in opposition to one another and occasionally at each other’s throats. (Lord knows I’ve got the bite marks to prove it.) But it’s these disagreements that are making this movement strong again.

In a country as diverse as this one, it’s going to take a multitude of approaches and voices working concurrently and aggressively to win full equality in our lifetimes. And yes, I want to get married before I die, but more important than that, none of us want to see another LGBT kid grow up being told he or she is less of a person – or deserves fewer rights – than anyone else. So let me be clear, in no way do these profiles define the new grass roots. It would take an encyclopedia to do that. These are simply some of the new grass roots, representing thousands just like them, and hopefully inspiring more men and women to take singular stands or to form their own bottom-up organizations to take on city hall or the United States Supreme Court. Because the new gay movement isn’t playing with itself anymore. It’s after the real thing again.

Also featured in the piece are Dan Choi, Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, Robin McGehee of GetEqual, Chad Griffin of AFER, Cleve Jones, activist David Mixner, actor Alan Cumming and other newsmaking members of the LGBT community.

As always, I feel humbled by being included with so many people who are making an impact on LGBT equality; it’s not always clear to me that what I do online (knowing that I am standing in for LGBT  citizen journalists/Cheetos-stained, PJ-wearing bloggers in this piece) is meaningful. Sometimes it can have an impact – by extending the voice of non-professional LGBTs to the ears of those with access. Other times you do feel like you’re shouting into a void and cannot effect change precisely because we don’t have direct access to power. I don’t think there’s any single answer to the question of how we impact the movement. I give it a bit of a shot in this article (the text of mine is after the jump),

As you can see by the photo (I’m on page 101 with Gavin Creel of Broadway Impact and Constance McMillan), I don’t look like my normal blogmistress self — no glasses, in a form-fitting wool dress, and wistfully, about 15 lbs lighter than I am now. That’s because I’ve had to boost my insulin levels prior to surgery, and it puts the weight on quickly (thankfully it’s leveled off and not still increasing at the present time). Sigh. Hopefully back to the weight loss after the alien uterus is ripped out in a couple of weeks.

Below the fold, amusing background on the photo shoot and a larger version of that photo with the full text.
The photography took place outdoors on the rooftop of a Lower East Side apartment building. From my earlier post:

I wasn’t told much in advance other than to have 1) blue jeans, 2) a black T-shirt, and 3) a white button down shirt. The latter I had to go out and buy because I don’t wear button-down shirts because my boobage usually causes irritating gaps. I didn’t know if I needed to wear any makeup, so I showed up bare-faced. Anyway, I arrive and David greets me. He’s an incredibly nice guy, btw. Very laid back. There were stylists that we waited for. Of course I was hoping they could do something to ensure that I looked fabulous, or at least not embarrassing.

But there was a complication — they didn’t have my clothing or shoe sizes, so they had to guess. I think to myself, “oh no, nothing will fit.” Stylists are not used to working with short, top-heavy, overweight women. I cringed to myself. They opened the bag of clothing options and most were fall/winter things (it’s November issue). One item that looked like it might fit was one of those designer “little black dress” outfits – the all-purpose kind that I prayed would get over the boobage and not look like ass on me.

I came out and lo-and-behold, the size L fit well enough to do the job. Thank goodness for stretchable fabric. It wasn’t like sausage stuffing, but still. And there was no makeup person, so I was going to be shot as-is. OMG. All I had on me was lip gloss. Imagine the terror. Oh well, go with the flow. So we went onto the roof…

David’s theme is a 1950s B&W Polaroid look. What was fascinating about it was that he was using a 1950s camera that he had rebuilt, and David was using film that he acquired via auction. This stock was really old – as in the boxes had expiration dates that were over a decade old. Also, this particular size of Polaroid film is no longer made. He was going to work from the negatives, not the prints themselves, and took some digital shots for backup.

The weather was very nice – not hellish hot as it had been the last time I was in NY – and I was shot in full sun. We took many photos with my glasses on, since that’s how most people recognize me, and several with them off, standing and seated.

So after he went through quite a few of those old Polaroid cartridges, David was happy with the look he wanted. Now I don’t know which one will end up in the magazine, but it seemed everyone agreed on two that were without my glasses, so it’s quite likely you’ll see me without specs, my hair down and not smiling. Very different look. But you know how those old photos no one seemed to smile, so I understand what he’s going for. I have a hard time not smiling or laughing. Modeling is hard work.

I was the last shoot of the day; he had already photographed David Mixner as well as Alan Cumming. David Mushegain showed me the Polaroids of theirs and the shots looked fabulously 50s.

Before I left, I asked for one of the reject prints from the shoot, and David kindly wrote a nice note on the back thanking me for my work and for participating in the project. I wonder what Kate will think of the shot.

Interview‘s editors sent me early copies of the issue, and unfortunately (or is it good fortune) they listed me as 37 years old. While I’d love to be 37 again, I always cop to my actual age of 47. They apologized profusely, but you know these things happen.

Pam SPAULDING,

Blogger, pamshouseblend.com

Pam Spaulding didn’t set out to have one of the most popular blogs dedicated to gay civil rights, but pamshouseblend.com quickly went viral. “When I launched the blog in 2004, it was really just to personally vent about the state of the political situation at the time,” the 37-year-old 47-year-old North Carolina-based blogger says. “[George W.] Bush was up for reelection. I was seeing the level of rancor on the side of the religious right over LGBT rights. When I started, I wasn’t thinking about people reading my work.” Soon, Spaulding was serving on panels to speak about the discriminatory political landscape and guest blogging on sites like the Huffington Post. She became what she terms an “accidental activist,” with a blog that racks up almost 250,000 visitors a month. Part of the site’s draw is that it allows readers to submit diaries about what’s going on in their cities. “I think the Internet has given voice to people who are terribly frustrated, with feelings of isolation. Now they can go on and see what other people are doing by reading blogs like mine,” she says. Spaulding knows it’s not just people in the gay community trafficking her site. “The first time I was called by the White House communication over a year ago, I nearly dropped my phone,” she remembers. “The [White House is] reading the blog and responding to either criticism or praise that I have.” It would be easy for bloggers to hide in anonymity – especially when the government is watching – but Spaulding purposely uses her own name. “I feel like I have to speak for people who are unable to, just to show that you can do this,” she says. “I have a full-time day job. I can’t quit and just blog. I like to have more voices than silence. Everyone needs to speak.” -LS

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Bad Lieutenant, Dan Choi – a great profile by the Village Voice’s Steven Thrasher

It’s great to see such a nice long feature on the enigma that is Dan Choi. He has many personas based on your political perspective, but what most people can agree on is that he generates strong reactions all around. Depending on your view he’s a hero, an attention-seeker, a patriot, a man of color, a “newly minted” out gay man (who has had his Grindr profile repeatedly deleted because the staff thinks he’s impersonating “the real” Dan Choi by using his actual name for his profile), an activist, a couch-surfer, you name it.

Village Voice staff writer Steven Thrasher, a friend of the Blend who has spent time in the coffeehouse as both a diarist and a liveblog guest (re: his infamous “White America Has Lost Its Mind” piece), has painted an interesting portrait, “Bad Lieutenant, Dan Choi,” that may surprise some, but if you’re a critic of MSM reporting, you’ll understand why this kind of profile hasn’t emerged in traditional media.

He has angered the left by not being lockstep antiwar enough at times, and by warmly welcoming Ken Mehlman, Bush’s campaign manager, to the gayborhood when he came out.

In a movement awash with political correctness, Choi decidedly isn’t. He is now speaking out without being asked, sometimes even angering people in his own camp. Rare among gay-rights activists in the national spotlight, Choi mixes an irrepressible sense of humor into his growing militancy.

Choi “has a public role and a private life,” one friend tells the Voice. “In his private life, he sometimes exhibits behaviors that, I fear, if caught on YouTube by somebody who was a conservative spy, would reflect very poorly on him and, by extension, on the movement. On the other hand, I’m just kind of jealous. There’s a lot of me wishing I could be out there and be as open as he is.”

Choi is unapologetic. He says he resents it when anyone, especially those in the gay-rights movement, discourages him from exploring-well, sexually-his newly revealed homosexuality.

“I think our movement hits on so many nerves,” he says, “not just for reasons of anti-discrimination and all the platitudes of the civil rights movement. I believe that it’s also because it has elements of sexual liberation. And it shows people that through what we’re trying to do, they can be fully respectful of themselves, without accepting the shame society wants to throw upon them.”

At Netroots Nation ’10.

And that’s the Dan Choi I’ve become familiar with — he’s the real deal off camera, no BS, all (too much) candor for the Beltway orgs. Think “loose cannon.” I mean that as a compliment, since by and large, many bloggers are seen in the same way, though I’d argue we play it a helluva lot safer than Dan does; he extends himself to represent those who wish they could speak out, as the unnamed friend noted. He could be seen as the Howard Beale of activists, unafraid to speak his mind in dramatic fashion, though perhaps that’s not quite right; he cleans up nicely for those on-air appearances, and he smoothly takes a jackhammer to BS – ask Valerie Jarrett how she felt after the fact-based smackdown she received on CNN last week. The White House is still trying to figure out how to recover from it.

***

At Netroots Nation ’10, Dan gave Harry Reid his West Point ring; the Senate Majority Leader said he would return it when DADT was repealed. Guess he’ll have that ring for a long while…

I was seated at the table with Dan at Netroots Nation when he prepared to go onstage and give Harry Reid his West Point ring. It was a dramatic moment that everyone knew would effectively lock the Senator into some kind of action, but Dan was nonplussed.

But to Choi’s mind, Reid’s gamble of attaching gay rights to a defense bill gave the Republicans a legitimate reason to feel shut out of the debate. So what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas.

“Harry Reid is a pussy,” Choi angrily said after the failed vote in the Senate last month, vowing to speak out about the Democratic leader, “and he’ll be bleeding once a month.”

That won’t get him a job as a Beltway mouthpiece, lol. Steven’s profile captures the Dan I have engaged with, a complicated, quite entertaining and in fact lovable (would he like me saying that?) young man who believes in social justice and is willing to pay the price to achieve it in ways most people don’t feel comfortable doing.

Choi says he lives out of a couple of bags and, being used to “falling asleep wherever you have to” in the military, he doesn’t seem to mind the nomadic life. “I’m in a relationship with the movement,” he says. “And in any relationship, sometimes you have to sleep on the couch. And sometimes, even with the movement, the couch is literally a couch.”

I was around him at Netroots not long after he heard about his discharge papers being issued; it was so uncomfortable, even painful to know that he was experiencing a rush of emotions long-suppressed about the prospect of this finality.

“I just wanted to be alone, and I was in the belly of the beast, surrounded by every liberal blogger in America!” he says. With all eyes on him, he thought, “I have nothing else to give.”

Yet he continued to give, even doing TV and radio interviews in the wake of learning about his discharge papers while still in Vegas. Off-camera when I saw him milling about the hotel, he was very much a drained solitary figure in many ways. Those who accuse him of grandstanding or being a publicity hound could not be more off-base. He’s an articulate representative that you know will make the best case for equality when he goes on the air; and we need more Dan Chois to be visible and speaking truth to power — and using the mainstream media is how it’s done. We see too many of the same tired, talking heads who don’t have the experience, poise, and perspective Dan has. It’s not whether Dan should be on less, it’s that we need more diverse voices to counter not only the anti-equality mouthpieces, but the equally dreadful well-paid “conventional wisdomitis” sufferers who engage in embarrassing banter based on conversations in the bubble of the Beltway. You don’t have to always agree with Dan Choi’s rules of engagement, but he’s stepping up to take action with passion where others are content to attend cocktail parties and play it safe.

Anyway, Steven scores a win with this piece IMHO. It’s lengthy, so surf over and tell fellow members of the coffeehouse what you think of the profile.

 
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

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South Dakota Veterans Make their Voices Heard

Iraq veteran Devin Oliver, Johnson staffer, Vietnam veteran Roger Blair, Michael Pyle from Young Democrats of America, Johnson staffer

The Argus Leader recently printed a letter from Lynn, a Sioux Falls veteran who supports repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Lynn writes:

I was in the Navy before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but it’s time for Congress to repeal this law.

The ban on gays and lesbians in the military always has been a vague threat for those of us who choose to serve. As a veteran who served in a reconnaissance attack squadron in Key West during the 1970s, there were few women stationed with me, and many of us volunteered for the hardest duties possible to prove our worth.

I knew of seven good women who were brilliant at their jobs but were discharged in a lesbian witch hunt. It saddens me that since 1993, we have lost more than 14,000 military personnel to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell discharges. No doubt many would have made the military their career and given a lifetime of service.

Across the state last week, staff from Senator Johnson’s Rapid City office took time to sit down with veterans and supporters to discuss “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Devin, a straight Iraq veteran, told of his experience serving with gay and lesbian servicemembers and Roger shared his experience during Vietnam.

Take action in your community! Click here for tools that will help you schedule a meeting with your members of Congress.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright