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Note: This article was originally posted by me on the website Back2Stonewall on August 8, 2012. Recent controversy over the selection and un-selection of Bradley Manning as Grand Marshall of the San Francisco Pride parade have prompted me to post this again. 

The Washington Blade ran an op-ed this week [August 6, 2012] by Philip Fornaci, calling Bradley Manning a hero for allegedly leaking sensitive information to Wikileaks, and saying that gay servicemembers should consider him a role model. His argument (along with the unhinged comments supporting it) is deeply offensive to gay servicemembers who have served honorably before and after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Fornaci has a bizarre notion of the what the values and ethics of a “strong and proud gay soldier” should be. The quotes from the article speak for themselves:

If Manning did in fact leak information to Wikileaks as he is accused, he has displayed enormous courage. He is a role model for how gay and lesbian service members should behave in the face of violations of the U.S. Constitution by the government entrusted with defending it…

In the new era beyond “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Manning is a model of what a strong and proud gay soldier should be, but he has yet to receive the support of the broader LGBT community he deserves.

Fornaci also presumes to have a better understanding of what being a role model as a soldier is than a servicemember who responded. He took to the comments himself, writing,

A “good soldier” is not one who blindly follows orders but is rather one who respects the U.S. constitution and the laws he is bound to protect… Blind obedience to authority if [sic] fascism.

Fornaci’s supporters in the comments, a large wave of whom seem to have taken to the board, elaborate on his views and demonstrate profound lack of respect for gay servicemembers. One person refers to other soldiers as “pussies” and “wimps.” Another person writes,

Bradley Manning is stronger and has more, “guts” than any of the, “I was just following orders” dupes in uniform.

These remarks are offensive on many different levels, and the following are just a few of the reasons why:

One, to get this out of the way, both Bradley Manning’s sexual orientation and gender identity are unclear, but he may not be gay. He is believed by many to be transgender but as it has been pointed out, no one can really even say for sure that he identified this way. This hasn’t stopped some people from referring to him as ‘she’. Fornaci does not seem to understand the distinction.

Two, there is absolutely no reason to depict Manning’s treatment as a “hate crime,” as Fornaci claims, other than to try to stir up anger and depict him as somehow being a martyr for LGBT rights. There is nothing homophobic about pursuing justice against people who break the law and violate national security as Manning is alleged to have done.

Three, people who serve in the military do not get to pick and choose which orders they would like to follow. I’ve met gay people of varying ideologies who have or are currently serving in the military. Some, for example, were personally opposed to the arguments for going to war in Iraq. Others were for it from the beginning. This did not prevent any of them from doing their jobs, following orders and serving to the best of their abilities, because they knew that was what they had signed up for. They should be proud of having served.

Four, because Fornaci is saying that Manning and his actions, if he is indeed guilty, are a model that other gays should follow, his statements are effectively a call for sabotage.

Five, these types of statements play into the exact fears that opponents of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell had about letting gays serve openly – that gays are undisciplined. Fornaci is explicitly saying that BECAUSE these soldiers are gay, that should predispose them to violate their chain of command. He appears to consider this a positive remark, and does not realize how great of an insult it is to gay servicemembers.

Finally, I think these remarks are a window into the hate that veterans are often met with when they return home. Members of the public often have misconceptions about the structure of power within the military and misplace anger they have about military actions undertaken by U.S. Government onto individual soldiers when they return to civilian life. Fornaci and his supporters would have us believe that it is reasonable for people to blame a soldier as an individual for not standing up for the values that they themselves believe in. For the sake of servicemembers returning home (straight, as well as gay), we can hope that this is not a majority opinion.

Sen. Marco Rubio understands his party well enough to know how much they can support in a comprehensive immigration reform bill. (Time)

Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) made some news at BuzzFeed’s BuzzFeed Brews event when he discussed immigration reform. Rubio has been seen as a leader from the Republican side of the aisle when it comes to immigration, a figure who many Republicans trust to bring forward real solutions and who many look to as a presidential contender for 2016 – Time magazine dubbed him “The Republican Savior” on their cover. But many LGBT advocates have been disturbed by his comments concerning measures for LGBT people in a new immigration reform bill. He told BuzzFeed that he thinks adding protections for LGBT immigrants could jeopardize the entire bill and that he does not want to see the efforts fail over a debate of LGBT rights. From BuzzFeed:

“I think if that issue becomes a central issue in the debate it’s going to become harder to get it done because there will be strong feelings on both sides,” Rubio said during an interview at BuzzFeed Brews.

I’ve covered both immigration reform and LGBT issues for some time and been an advocate for both, so some readers may be surprised to hear that I’m in agreement with Rubio on this. It is unfair that bi-national LGBT couples are held to a different set of standards in the immigration system than heterosexual ones. But the real solution to alleviate the hardship these couples face will come not from a quick fix inserted into this bill at great political cost, but from executive measures and (hopefully) a Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

The risks of specifically addressing LGBT rights in this bill are too great to spend energy fighting for its inclusion in this bill and hoping to have it pass the Republican-controlled House. LGBT immigration advocates should remember that there is currently a case pending with the Supreme Court that will decide the future of DOMA. Should DOMA fall, measures put into this immigration bill to protect LGBT couples will not matter. Should DOMA be upheld, there may be greater consequences to the system that are unforeseen by advocates now.

Striving for ideological purity will do nothing but put the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in this country in greater danger. Rubio and the aspirations of his party to take back the White House are the best chance that immigrant advocates have to get a good comprehensive reform bill through Congress.

It is important for activists to realize just how far we have come in the past few years on this issue. We are talking about the possibility of finally providing a real pathway to citizenship not just to DREAM-eligible immigrants who were brought to this country at a young age by parents, but for their parents and families as well. In the very recent past, the debate wasn’t about the possibility of actually bringing a pathway to citizenship for immigrant parents, but whether or not we were going to take away the citizenship of U.S. citizen children who had been born here.

Regardless of the text of the immigration reform bill, the fate of bi-national same-sex couples will be addressed in United States v. Windsor. A comprehensive immigration bill that does not address LGBT rights could still be a good bill, and an important bill. Rubio’s fears that a debate on LGBT rights could derail the process are quite valid, because the greatest obstacle to the bill’s passage will be getting enough Republicans to support it in the House. He understands correctly that it is best to not give members of his party who are on the fence any excuse to vote no when their support is needed.

Peak schadenfreude occurred on Wednesday, November 7, 2012, the day after the 2012 elections (Google Trends)

It may have seemed like schadenfreude was one of the biggest buzzwords of the 2012 election outcomes, but thanks to Google we can actually quantify it. According to Google Trends, we reached peak schadenfreude on Wednesday, November 7, with spikes on November 14 and November 19.

A rocket launched in the north of the Gaza Strip by Palestinian militants, seen from the Israel-Gaza Border (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Yesterday, at a press conference in Thailand, President Obama reiterated the White House’s position on the situation in Israel and Gaza, that Israel has the right to defend itself, as any nation does, when its civilians are being subjected to deliberate attacks.

“Let’s understand what the precipitating event here that’s causing the current crisis and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory but in areas that are populated, and there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders…

“So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians.”

I strongly agree with the President’s view on this matter. But this position puts me in direct opposition to a significant portion of the liberal base who disagree that Israel has this right. This is a standard that no other nation on earth is held to. Aside from articles being written declaring Israel to have already “lost,” for the past few days my Twitter feed has been full of retweets of vitriolic statements by voices from the left like Max Blumenthal:

To be clear, I am opposed to many of the policy stances that the Israeli government has taken in recent years (the construction of further settlements in the West Bank, for example). I believe that under the leadership of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli government has taken actions that have damaged the possibility of arriving at a two-state solution anytime soon. That said, I am a supporter of the right of the State of Israel to exist and defend its civilians from rocket fire, and that seems to separate me from many of the media voices I tend to listen to.

My support for Israel came from doing something that many intellectuals of my generation on the left have been unwilling to do – actually studying modern Jewish history, Zionism, nationalist identity, and the existence of Jews (and Arabs) in the Levant in modern times. I find it mind-boggling that so many people in my generation who are interested in both socialism and ethnic nationalism have no interest in studying Israel, which is arguably the greatest success story of a state built on these two concepts that the world has ever known.

It should be remembered that the motives driving Hamas are not a desire for peace with Israel or a two-state solution. A spokesman for Hamas said, “We are sending a short and simple message: There is no security for any Zionist or any single inch of Palestine and we plan more surprises.” If you support the stance that Hamas has taken, you are effectively calling for the extinction of the State of Israel. Would any other country in the world be expected not to retaliate against this threat because of its own tactical advantage? What if in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on civilians in New York and Washington, the rest of the world told the United States not to go after the people responsible because, in their opinion, the terrorists had legitimate grievances?

There is both an ignorance of the conditions on the ground and a sort of blind trust that the leadership of Hamas must have the best interests of its people in mind. There’s almost a kind of orientalism involved in the unwillingness to see conflict and complexity within Palestinian communities. When you read into the facts on the ground a bit further, you see that Hamas itself is not a monolithic organization but has its own politics and power struggles, and that Hamas is not the only political power in Gaza. You also see that the interests of the leadership of other countries of the region have also not always lined up with the well-being of the people living in Gaza or the West Bank or displaced in refugee camps.

Anyone who can observe these events and not come to the conclusion that Hamas is failing the people of Gaza is willfully blind. Who is to blame for the fact that Hamas has deliberately staged their rocket launching and communications sites in civilian areas so as to increase civilian casualties? Is Israel? There are many people out there on the American left, like Blumenthal, who would probably say yes.

 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) wait before a news conference in 2011. Both senators made TV appearances yesterday, announcing new efforts at immigration reform legislation (J. Scott Applewhite/AP via CSMonitor)

Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) both appeared on Sunday morning talk shows yesterday to announce that they are joining together to work on restarting efforts for immigration reform. This maneuver follows a historic loss for Republicans among Latino voters during this past election – President Obama won the group by a margin of 44 points.

As quoted by Talking Points Memo, Graham said put it bluntly:

It’s one thing to shoot yourself in the foot. Just don’t reload the gun…So I intend not to reload this gun when it comes to Hispanics. I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that’s an American solution to an American problem. But we have nobody to blame but ourselves when it comes to losing Hispanics. And we can get them back with some effort on our part.

It’s not just Lindsey Graham who is talking about the GOP changing its tone and taking action on immigration reform. Sean Hannity proposed a surprisingly fair and reasonable solution for fixing the problem of 10 million undocumented immigrants living in this country with no way to attain legal status. On his radio show, he said:

We’ve gotta get rid of the immigration issue altogether. It’s simple for me to fix it. I think you control the border first, you create a pathway for those people that are here, you don’t say you gotta home. And that is a position that I’ve evolved on. Because you know what–it just–it’s gotta be resolved. The majority of people here–if some people have criminal records you can send’ em home–but if people are here, law-abiding, participating, four years, their kids are born here… first secure the border, pathway to citizenship… then it’s done. But you can’t let the problem continue. It’s gotta stop.

Even Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer seemed to be flip-flopping on the issue (temporarily).

One thing worth noting here is that these voices form the right were not referring to the DREAM Act, which Democrats have settled on to try to get passed but it is a severely inadequate bill for actually fixing the problem. Graham and Hannity are talking about a real pathway to citizenship that isn’t only restricted to those who were brought here as children.

Republican politicians have realized that they are in trouble with Latino voters, with newly-elected Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) warning that his party is in danger of losing his home state and if that happens, the Republican Party will never again be able to win the White House. For the past two years, the Kris Kobach-wing of the Republican Party has been in control of the party’s agenda on immigration, but it looks like that may be changing quickly.

These next few months may be crucial if any serious gains are to be made on immigration reform. With no national elections coming up in the near future, this could be the best time for members of Congress across the aisle to pursue it, minimizing the risks for Republican politicians of angering parts of their conservative base who oppose any reform. Only time will tell if there are enough Republican politicians concerned about making this legislation happen, and whether or not a backlash against reform will emerge to derail the process once again.

 

Being defriended on Facebook isn’t going to keep anyone from voting for this guy. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

An article called “Please Defriend Me” by Kergan Edwards-Stout from the Bilerico Project and Huffington Post has been making the rounds over the past few days. In the article, Edwards-Stout asks that anyone in his life who is planning on voting for Mitt Romney defriend him and stop following him on Twitter. He says he doesn’t want anyone to debate it with him, so that’s not what I intend to do. He’s made his statement. I think it’s a divisive, ignorant, and blatantly partisan statement, but he is entitled to it. I would like to discourage people from following his example.

Aside from the article’s hostility towards anyone who disagrees with him or only partially agrees, and its message that will only resonate with people who are on board with his own political aims, the fact is that this is not an argument about Edwards-Stout’s personal well-being as an LGBT person. If this was about his right to exist being threatened, why bring up education, or the environment, or public funding of arts, or women’s rights? There’s nothing wrong with caring about these things, but don’t conflate them with your own personal ability to be treated with respect. What Edwards-Stout’s statement really comes down to is sending the message that if you’re not on my team, if you don’t have the same ideals that I have, believe in what I believe as strongly as I do, you’re not welcome in my life. This is a path to becoming politically obsolete.

You know what’s a radical idea for influencing people’s opinions? Talking to them. Being decent to them. Showing them that you’re someone they can relate to and making them feel and sympathize with what you’re going through. It’s just as important to show people who respect you that your views aren’t just talking points and marching orders, and that you’ve thought them through. But the first step is building mutual respect. Part of that respect comes from not opening an exchange by saying, “You can’t be my friend on Facebook because I don’t like the way you think,” and feeling proud of that.

It might come as a surprise to Edwards-Stout that when I read his article, I didn’t even immediately think about my straight friends as much as my gay ones who are supporting Mitt Romney. I can’t cut them out of my life just because of the way they vote, and I have a much better chance of bringing them on board with my views as a friend and as someone they can trust than as someone who would be willing to throw that all away over politics. And you know what else? They have a better chance of finding areas where they can get me to agree with their opinions too, as long as they value our friendship first.

Despite what many liberal activists often assume, we DON’T live in a world where the left has the gays locked on their side. Gay Republicans are a real political force and they are gaining credibility and influence. Liberals can’t simply pretend that they don’t exist. And if liberal gays wake up on November 7 to a President-Elect Romney, what should they do? Move to Canada? You can’t divorce yourself from the people and ideas that you don’t like and expect to effect change.

More often than not, progress is about coming to embrace other people’s views and compromising. (Perhaps Edwards-Stout does not remember just how much of that went into passing the Affordable Care Act that he’s defending so fiercely now) The image that you project and your willingness to communicate are important. You have to be willing to talk to be people, to listen to them, to tell them that you at least understand where they’re coming from, or else you’ll find one day that the only people listening are your base.

Linda McMahon appears to hesitate before shaking Congressman Chris Murphy’s hand at their U.S. Senate debate on Sunday, October 7, 2012. (Photo Peter Casolino/New Haven Register)

Congressman Chris Murphy and former WWE CEO/perpetual Senate candidate Linda McMahon squared off in a debate in Connecticut on Sunday morning in their brutal race for the U.S. Senate. McMahon didn’t fare well and one of the worst moments for her came near the end when she was asked to address gay marriage. When asked whether or not she supported legal gay marriage as in Connecticut or a ban on it as in North Carolina, her state of origin, McMahon said that she supported “America’s law for same-sex marriage.” Murphy jumped on the line, saying that she can not be trusted to stand up for gays on issues like this when she isn’t even aware that the current federal law on gay marriage is the Defense of Marriage Act.

Here’s a clip via Think Progress:

Later in the day, McMahon flipped her original conservative stance and came out supporting a repeal of DOMA. From the Hartford Courant:

“I have changed my position on DOMA because, with … gay marriage approved in the state of Connecticut, I just … don’t think it’s fair … so I would vote to repeal DOMA,” McMahon told reporters after the debate.

The decision isn’t going over well with social conservatives in the state. Peter Wolfgang, the executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, wrote on his Facebook page,

“I’m still voting for Linda because her victory could mean the end of Roe v. Wade. But because Linda McMahon flip-flopped and now supports a repeal of DOMA — the one federal law that stops Connecticut’s judicially imposed re-definition of marriage from being imposed on the rest of the nation — my September 18th endorsement of her is no longer accurate,”

McMahon’s switch in her position may help improve her stance among independents and will definitely bring her praise from gay Republicans, but it doesn’t do much to shake the image that she is simply uninformed when it comes to these issues and makes her seem unlikely to stand up to Republican leadership on them. The ideological dynamics in Connecticut are also important to consider here. A smaller percentage of people identify as Republicans in the state than in the past, but among them there is a socially conservative base that McMahon needs to drive out to the polls if she wants to win. The race is a toss-up, but in a state where a majority of people will be voting Democrat for every other federal office this year, and where people are increasingly frustrated with this Senate race, voters will likely elect Murphy by default. McMahon is already winning independents, so trying to appeal to them further at the risk of alienating her base may not be a good move for her if she’s hoping to energize them enough to get out and vote.

Rachel Maddow moderated a discussion yesterday with attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies at NYU Law. (via Kenneth in the 212)

Yesterday, Rachel Maddow moderated a discussion at the NYU School of Law with attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies about the Perry v. Brown case (in which they have been representing the plaintiffs) and about the state of the fight for gay civil rights in the courts. One of the more interesting and tense points during the event came when Maddow brought up the fact that Olson is currently helping Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan prepare for his debate with Vice President Joe Biden by playing the part of Biden. Maddow pointed out the Romney ticket’s commitment to a federal marriage amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, and their support for the support for the Defense of Marriage Act. She asked how Olson could actively aid a campaign that is opposed to the cause that he has taken up the judicial fight for. It was a rough question, but Olson argued that he can support the nominees in that way because things in the Republican Party really are changing on LGBT issues for the better.

Olson emphasized that dialogue within the GOP makes a difference. The Republican Party is full of people who are making their careers off of harming the rights of gays, but the best chance you’ll have at changing their minds and achieve things comes simply by talking to these people and being relatable to them. The fact that Olson is a real Republican who has worked for the party and done great things for them gives a person like him a different position and more leverage for talking to other Republicans than a Rachel Maddow or a David Boies could ever have. A person like Olson is in the right position to convince other Republicans to evaluate their values. Olson’s point sounds weak the way it is delivered, but I believe this strategy does actually work.

What it all comes down to is that many people will only respect you and your positions if they believe that you and them are on the same side. When people know or think that you’re one of them, they will be more inclined to listen to what you say and really take it to heart. This is an example that people from all political factions can learn from.

Maddow’s question for Olson on his work with the Romney campaign and the Ryan debate preparation comes at the 43 minute mark.

 

Ernest Hemingway with his son and the Thompson submachine gun he used to scare away sharks while fishing. (via Buzzfeed)

Today is the 47th anniversary of the signing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Act marked the beginning of the current immigration system and was a break away from the Immigration Act of 1924, which had established severe national quotas that cut off most of the flow of immigration to the United States.

There were also negative aspects of the bill. It marked the first time that “sexual deviation” was explicitly listed as medical grounds for denying a person entry to the United States until 1990. Aside from this, the fact that such a great change in immigration policy could have been effected then should serve as inspiration to those who are trying to fix the broken system we have now, and hoping to pressure President Obama on the issue should be be elected to a second term.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 at the Statue of Liberty, October 3, 1965 (LBJ Presidential Library)

Johnson remains a controversial figure in U.S. Presidential history, but his reputation has improved a great deal among historians of civil rights. History may come to remember him as the second greatest politician for progressive politics, behind FDR, despite his actions in Vietnam. No other president did as much to advance the civil rights of minorities, between the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the Great Society, and appointing Thurgood Marshall to be the first African American Supreme Court Justice. It was a very atypical presidency, and one that should be studied a great deal more for its achievements (as well as its failures) in domestic policy.