Connect with us

Opinions

Why I support Vincent Gray for mayor

‘It is not in his DNA to lie or cheat’

Published

on

Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade
Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray is running for re-election. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

On April 1, 2014, I will cast my ballot for Vincent C. Gray for mayor. It was an easy decision for me but may not be for many other voters. The open investigation surrounding his 2010 campaign is entering into many people’s decision. I am convinced that the majority will come to the same conclusion and believe the mayor when he says he has done nothing illegal. I choose to accept his apology. One look at his life, not just the politician, and you must conclude it is not in his DNA to lie or cheat. Gray’s life has been spent working for those who couldn’t fight for themselves and he dedicated himself to the non-profit field eschewing the money track. Many in government, including current Council members, have made millions being paid for their influence in office. Gray’s time in politics and government, only 13 years out of a long career, was full time and didn’t include looking for sources of outside income.

By every measurable indicator his administration has been successful. So for those who will consider voting against the mayor based on supposition and innuendo, which is all there is regarding his personal role in his 2010 campaign, it would be my hope they take a second look before casting their ballot. They might just reconsider voting for him in the primary and ensuing election based on the health of the city. The District is moving in the right direction in every area including public safety; education reform; and fiscal stability. Moreover his administration is doing everything possible to improve the lives of the residents of every ward.

The continued success of a city means giving credit to those who came before. Mayor Gray, along with starting new initiatives in the areas of employment and economic development; upping the level of service delivery; education reform and strengthening the safety net; has built on the positive initiatives begun under former Mayor Anthony Williams. That progress continued under former Mayor Adrian Fenty, elected overwhelmingly in 2006. He continued the reforms that Williams began and added his signature accomplishment, wresting control of the education system and placing it in the mayor’s office. He did that with the help of then Council Chair Vincent Gray. His chosen chancellor, Michelle Rhee, made great strides in reforming the system but after three years was under fire for how she worked, or didn’t work, with the community and her desire for personal publicity. While the Fenty administration made continued improvements in delivering city services it also spent down the city’s reserve fund by $600 million leaving the District at serious risk for lower bond ratings.

Gray became mayor at the time the nation was coming out of a recession and had the opportunity to make great strides in a fairly short time. He used all those opportunities. He continued education reform with Kaya Henderson as chancellor, and in 2013, based on national tests, the children of the District improved more than children in any other urban district. Gray authored and introduced the bill for universal pre-K education when he was Council Chair and that has resulted in some of the great strides our children are making.

Gray inherited an underfunded reserve and worked to rebuild the District’s fiscal solvency. He has been wildly successful while at the same time improving the delivery of city services. Because Gray rebuilt that reserve to $1.6 billion he was able to keep the D.C. government open during the federal shutdown. Then working with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, he ensured that the District is now exempt from federal shutdowns through 2015. Gray is the first mayor to not only stand up to the federal government but along with some members of the Council and brave citizens sit down for their beliefs. He led an act of civil disobedience and again showed what he is made of as a person. Another indication of the man is that Gray has been the most supportive elected official the LGBT community has ever had. He has lost friends because of his principled stands but never hesitated to speak openly about his support for the community.

The Gray administration has been very successful in attracting new business to the District. During the first three years of the Gray administration the District has earned high marks from those who rate cities and their achievements. In 2013, Forbes magazine rated the District the #1 New Tech Hot Spot; Politicom rated us the #1 strongest economy in the United States; and the American College of Sports Medicine rated us the #2 fittest city in the nation. The mayor created the Mayor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Nutrition and pushed fitness in the schools and continues to build new bike lanes. In 2012, we were rated #1 for LEED-certified Projects by the U.S. Green Building Council and the mayor initiated the strongest plan for turning a city green in the nation.

The mayor revamped the city’s Department of Employment Services to ensure that city residents would be able to receive training for the jobs that would become available and his One City-One Hire program, which has now accounted for more than 9,000 new jobs for city residents, won a Harvard University Bright Idea Award in 2012. In all, since the Gray administration began the city has scored as one of the top 10 cities in the nation, often #1, on 17 best of lists from best educated, best for college grads, venture capital investment, retail investment and hippest city.

Because of the efforts of the Gray administration, the District continues to thrive and attracts more than 1,000 new residents a month, many of them young or empty nesters who contribute to the tax base. In addition all you have to do is walk through some of the city’s rebuilt neighborhoods where once there were few children to see the baby carriages and the parks being used and a new vibrancy that comes from more families making the city their home.

But D.C. is still a tale of two cities. There are great economic disparities and Mayor Gray has worked to ensure that while we rebuild our neighborhoods with a focus on housing, nightlife and restaurants, we don’t forget those who have not yet benefitted from the improving economy. Some are disingenuous and talk about the mayor only going with the flow and continuing already started projects. But a fair assessment shows how wrong this is. In 2006, Mayor Fenty held a groundbreaking for the O Street Market, which Council Chair Gray attended. It was only later that he found out there was no financing for the project. Upon taking office as mayor, he worked with Roadside, the developer, to get the financing for that project. His administration worked to get the financing on track for CityCenter as well. It was the Gray administration that finalized the financing and signed the agreement that brought $900 million from Qatar into the District of Columbia. It was the Gray administration that after 20 years of nothing happening got the Skyland project in Ward 7 on track and they are ready to start construction.

Mayor Gray fought to bring Walmart into the District over the concerns of some who felt it would harm local small business. The fact is that in areas of the District where Walmart is going there were few small businesses to harm. These were neighborhoods that had no groceries at all and where people had to go by car or public transportation if they wanted to shop for their families. At the same time the Gray administration is addressing the issue of food deserts, which we have in the District. Addressing one of the most pressing issues in the District, Mayor Gray has allocated $187 million to jump-start the building of 10,000 affordable housing units, which no previous administration has done. It is the Gray administration that has worked to get the commitment from Microsoft for a research center in Ward 8.

There are other projects and concerns that have languished under other administrations for years with only talk and which Mayor Gray has addressed successfully. For years the city has been under court order to address the issue of transportation for the District’s children with disabilities. Today that court order has been lifted because of the work of the Gray administration. He worked successfully to lift the Dixon decree, which was the mental health case that had been in place for 35 years. Mayor Gray committed in his first State of the District speech that he would stop sending our special-needs children to private schools and develop appropriate programs for them in our public schools. The year before he came into office the District spent $168 million sending special-needs children to private schools. By building the capacity in the District’s schools to give those children a good education here the cost of private placements has now been reduced to less than $80 million.

Mayor Gray’s 2010 platform of ONE CITY was recognition that every community has basic interests that are the same including safe streets, a quality education, decent housing, a place to shop and a place to recreate. But the ONE CITY vision also recognized that we are a great place to live because of our cultural diversity and that respect for everyone no matter where they come from, what their sexual orientation or gender identity, is paramount. Each person should be entitled to celebrate their heritage, culture and life, and share it with others. His vision included being the most openly supportive elected official the LGBT community has ever had. He never hesitates to speak out forcefully for the civil and human rights of all people. From his time on the Council where his efforts enabled marriage-equality legislation to pass and he worked to fight hate crimes, to his current employment and training programs for the transgender community, he has been there and accounted for every step of the way.

As mentioned earlier, Gray has spent only 13 of his working years in government and politics. It is a great misconception that he is a lifelong politician. Gray spent a career in the non-profit field eschewing many opportunities to earn the big bucks that so many are after. His disciplined approach to public service was born from humble beginnings. He grew up in a one-bedroom apartment at 6th and L streets, N.E. Although his parents never attended high school, they instilled in their son a solid work ethic and deeply rooted values. Mayor Gray attended Logan Elementary and Langley Junior High Schools, and graduated at the age of 16 from Dunbar High School, where he excelled in academics and sports. He then went on to George Washington University. While at George Washington, he became the first African American admitted to the GW fraternity system, and in his junior and senior years, became the first person to serve consecutive terms as chancellor of Tau Epsilon Phi. Upon graduation he was scouted by Major League Baseball teams but instead chose to dedicate his life to his community. His dedication to children and their families has been the hallmark of his service in both city government and the non-profit sector.

Gray began his professional career with The Arc of D.C. (then known as the Association of Retarded Citizens) where he successfully advocated for innovative policy initiatives on behalf of people with developmental disabilities, and spearheaded the closure of the District-run Forest Haven mental institution after it was exposed for poor conditions and abuse of patients.

Gray’s foray into local government was in 1991 when Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly appointed him to the post of director of the Department of Human Services where he oversaw the functions of a 7,000-person department and directed activities related to Public Health, Social Services, Mental Health Services and Health Care Finance. In this role, he spearheaded the implementation of several initiatives to address the developmental needs of children and oversaw the first citywide HIV/AIDS project. While knowing that success in that position was always going to be questioned Gray believed that ensuring the safety net for those in need was a priority and had to become a priority for the District government.

He left government in 1994 and instead of looking to cash in on his time in government as so many others have he took the position as the first executive director of Covenant House Washington, an international, faith-based organization dedicated to serving homeless and at-risk youth. During his decade at the helm of Covenant House, Gray helped make the organization one of the most effective of its kind in the District, and led successful campaigns to purchase and renovate a crisis center for homeless youth and a multi-purpose center and built a new community service center in the far southeast community of D.C.

Then in 2004, he was convinced by his neighbors to run and he won election as the Council member from Ward 7. During his first two years on the Council he chaired a special committee on the prevention of youth violence, and continued his fight against the AIDS crisis by creating the Effi Barry HIV/AIDS initiative. After only two years he was convinced to run and won his citywide election for chair of the Council. Running on the theme of “One City,” he continued his lifelong focus on uniting the disparate racial and economic groups in his hometown.

As chairman, Gray was a leader in efforts to improve the Council’s operations, transparency and oversight capacity, and was a true champion for school reform. He spearheaded the Pre-K Expansion and Enhancement Act, which established a voluntary, high-quality pre-school program to provide 2,000 new classroom slots for three-and four-year-olds over six years. The mayor’s diligence resulted in that goal being met in September of 2010, well before the 2014 target. During his time as chair, the Council was rated one of the most respected legislatures in the nation.

What people should remember in judging Vincent Gray is that he didn’t ever anticipate being mayor. When he was sworn in as Council Chair on Jan. 1, 2007, Fenty was being sworn in as mayor and had just had an overwhelming victory winning every precinct in the District. It was clear to many as it was to Gray that Fenty could be mayor for life if he chose that route. It was only after Fenty squandered that good will and the polls showed him losing to Gray that Gray even got into the mayor’s race. Fenty had a bankroll of $5 million at the time Gray began his campaign. Even counting the ‘shadow campaign’ Fenty had $1.5 million more than Gray to spend on his campaign and the power of the incumbency to go along with that.

Gray has rightfully apologized for his 2010 campaign, and he agreed that as the candidate he had to apologize even if he personally didn’t do anything wrong. After living in the District all his life and having lifetime friends who worked on his campaign he found that some of them did illegal things in a very misguided effort to help him. They were wrong but legally and otherwise we should not be held personally accountable for the mistakes of our friends. We should apologize and he has done that. We should abide by the legal system that everyone must abide by and he has done that. In the three years of the investigation no one has accused him of a crime.

We are three years into the Gray administration and there is no question, even from many of those who keep challenging him with regard to the 2010 campaign, that the city continues to move forward and he has had many successes. There are challengers who suggest that the city is under a cloud because of the mayor and that has held us back. But not one of them can point to an area where we have been held back. Most of the challengers sit on the City Council and can’t point to one piece of legislation that they wanted to introduce that they couldn’t because of the investigation into the 2010 campaign. In fact the mayor and his appointed attorney general introduced a very strict campaign finance reform bill and the Council has thus far refused to pass it.

None of the mayor’s challengers has the administrative background to indicate they could administer the city government. At most they have run small office staffs and in one case run a small chain of restaurants, which is very different from administering a city with a budget of more than $10 billion. The question voters must ask themselves is if they believe the city is headed in the right direction, then why would they take a chance on changing administrations?

Slogans are easy to campaign on but the work of running a city is very different.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. brian

    January 30, 2014 at 8:59 am

    ******
    I… believe the mayor when he says he has done nothing illegal… One look at his life, not just the politician, and you must conclude it is not in his DNA to lie or cheat.
    ******
    Oh, please, Peter! Not in his DNA? That’s just ROTFL funny! (And Chris Christie didn’t know a thing about Bridge-gate and Hoboken-gate going on right under his nose.)

    Mark Lee’s opine is closer to the mark– for all candidate to consider…
    **
    Outdated zoning laws, obtuse development restrictions and obsessive approval regulations the city has largely retreated from fixing – instead proposing only modest and inadequate revisions inching forward at painfully slow pacing – are no help, either. Why aren’t voters hearing any bold proposals for reform in these areas?
    http://www.washingtonblade.com/2014/01/29/stop-counting-cranes-embarrassing-us/
    **

    As to LGBT hate crimes and public safety, to this day Gray and Lanier continue to withhold or coverup anti-LGBT hate crimes and their closure statistics.

    Gray’s other public safety failures are well publicized, however. Wrongdoing by Gray’s MPD officers, as well as Fire/EMS/911 incompetence are the subject of outrageous and/or tragic news stories on a regular basis now.

    I believe DC’s LGBT voters aren’t that stupid, and they have much higher standards as to who should be mayor of a great city. Blind faith in a dubious mayor’s claim — “I am not a crook” — is no way to choose a mayor of any city.

  2. brian

    January 31, 2014 at 10:11 am

    **********
    “I… believe the mayor when he says he has done nothing illegal… One look at his life, not just the politician, and you must conclude it is not in his DNA to lie or cheat.”
    **********
    Oh, puh-leeze, Doctor! Not in his DNA?!?

    That’s just ROTFL funny. And Chris Christie didn’t know a thing about Bridge-gate and Hoboken-gate going on right under his nose.

    If we add second-to-none standards for *PUBLIC SAFETY* and *EDUCATION* to Mark Lee’s Blade opine this week, there we have a set of issues much closer to the mark for all mayoral candidates to talk to us about…
    **
    Outdated zoning laws, obtuse development restrictions and obsessive approval regulations the city has largely retreated from fixing – instead proposing only modest and inadequate revisions inching forward at painfully slow pacing – are no help, either. Why aren’t voters hearing any bold proposals for reform in these areas?
    **
    As to LGBT hate crimes and public safety, to this day Gray and Lanier continue to withhold and/or coverup anti-LGBT hate crimes and their *closed w/ arrest* statistics. Simply put, anti-LGBT hate criminals are mostly getting away with their violent hate crimes on Vincent Gray’s watch. If NYPD can catch New York’s anti-LGBT hate crimes perpetrators, how come Gray’s MPD can not?

    Why should LGBT voters reward failure to bring DC’s violent hate criminals to justice with a second term for MPD’s real boss, Vincent Gray?

    Gray’s other public safety failures are well publicized, though. Wrongdoing by MPD officers, as well as Fire/EMS/911 incompetence are the subject of outrageous and/or tragic news stories on a regular basis now.

    I think the great majority of DC’s LGBT voters are nobody’s fools. They have much higher standards as to who should be mayor of a great city. Certainly, in any city, blind faith in a dubious mayor’s claim– amounting to, “I am not a crook” — is no way to choose a mayor to be proud of.

    Fool us once, shame on Gray. Fool us twice, shame on us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Opinions

Congrats to Parkland survivor Cameron Kasky on coming out

An advocate for LGBTQ equality and reform of gun laws

Published

on

Cameron Kasky (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Oh to come out again.

The excitement. The nervousness. The sheer terror? Announcing it over and over to that friend or to that coworker. When people ask when I came out I generally say freshman year. But more accurately it’s more of a question of when and to whom? Thinking about it all again, there’s really no scenario in which I want to relive that. After all that was 1995, not 2021. The experience has to be a bit different now, right? There are myriad differences between then and now — greater social acceptance, gay marriage, what have you — but one of the greatest differences is that one can sort of do it now in one fell swoop thanks to social media and sites like Twitter.  

That’s where gun control activist and Parkland massacre survivor Cameron Kasky chose to make his coming out announcement on Monday. You remember Cameron; he was a principal organizer of the 2018 March for Our Lives rally and somewhat a Twitter personality since then. I like him because he constantly picks on Trump loyalist and bobblehead model, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz. 

In his coming out, Cameron noted that his “ability to proudly share who I am today only exists due to queer activists, specifically queer activists of color, giving their lives for our right to exist.” Yes, of course, and he’s right to pay homage to those who have come before and to mention queer people of color who have and continue in many ways to bear the brunt of social activism. A kid like Cameron, or let’s say a man like Cameron now, coming from a comfortable Florida upbringing, could have easily dismissed or ignored any of that and just coasted into a comfortable gay existence. But he recognized his privilege. And there’s a head nod to what might be coming, that is the obvious intersectionality of gun violence and anti-LGBTQ violence, not to mention really the scores of intersections of violence in America and the plight of minority groups. 

And it should be said that Cameron isn’t the only Parkland survivor to come out. X González came out as bisexual closer to the March for Our Lives rally. I’m sure you remember her and her powerful speech there, pausing for several minutes in honor of each of the 17 dead and 17 injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Leave it to the queer kids to lead the charge. 

I actually spent a morning with Cameron and a few of his fellow students leading up to the rally. I was essentially a media escort, driving them around to different interviews with local media outlets around Washington. We didn’t bond or anything and I doubt he remembers. What I remember are teenagers dealing with fame, trauma, and suddenly, but deftly, crafting a coherent and national message. Leave it to a theater kid like Cameron to see it through. I do remember being impressed, perhaps a bit perplexed, that listening to the radio in the van between interviews a 17-year-old knew that Prince actually wrote the Bangles head-bopper 80’s hit “Manic Monday.” I guess that should have been a giveaway. But we had other things on our mind that day.

Cameron closed his announcement saying that “to those of you who are also struggling to find an identity that you find authentic, take your time. Look inwards and indulge in your beauty and light. You’ll find so much to love, so much to be proud of.” So what’s next for Cameron? Well, I guess that’s up to Cameron really. And if he just wants to spend his gay 20s trading in fame here and there, he’s earned the right. But I doubt that would satisfy him. 

So what’s next? I guess there’s time, and the space, for all that. 

Congrats on coming out, Cameron. 

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer who contributes regularly to the Blade.

Continue Reading

Commentary

The road to DADT repeal — remember their names

‘Maybe not in my lifetime, but we are going to win in the end’

Published

on

Lt. Dan Choi handcuffs himself to the White House fence in 2010. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

“Maybe not in my lifetime, but we are going to win in the end.” – Air Force TSgt. Leonard Matlovich, Sept. 19, 1975.

The road to repeal of the codified charade known colloquially as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), masquerading as something different than the Pentagon policy ban dating to World War II, was long and built by many hands. While a straight-identified Congress and president were necessary to reach the destination, LGBT Americans made it happen. But “DADT Speak” can unintentionally erase the some 100,000 discharged before its creation. The following focuses on some of the First Volunteers; those very few service members who chose to risk their careers by outing themselves, putting faces to the ban, without which it would still be destroying lives.

In March 1974, Leonard Matlovich was the happiest he’d ever been in his life. It had taken him until he was 30, and surviving thoughts of suicide-by-war and direct suicide, to finally accept and embrace that he was gay, and now he had a job that he loved: Race Relations Instructor for the Air Force. He was so good in this job that he was sent around the country to train other instructors. An African-American fellow instructor said that, “He has the classroom in the palm of his hand.” 

His department chief wrote, “As a Race Relations Instructor there is none better. His mastery of group dynamics and group facilitation has enabled him to conduct seminar after seminar around the difficult and sensitive subject of race relations without incident. He should be promoted to Master Sergeant well ahead of his contemporaries.” 

And then he read an interview with Frank Kameny in the Air Force Times.

World War II veteran Frank Kameny had a genius IQ and Harvard Ph.D. in astronomy. Hired by the Army Map Service (AMS) in 1957, his dream of being one of the first astronauts, in fact, his entire scientific career, crashed and burned when the AMS learned he was gay. LGBs were already banned in the military; now, per Republican President Dwight Eisenhower’s Executive Order banning “sexual perversion” among civilian federal employees, he was fired five months later, and, worse, blackballed from employment by any other federal agency or private company or university receiving federal funding.

Unaffiliated with any gay group, he did what no other fired gay person had done. Eight years before Stonewall, he appealed his case against the Secretary of the Army to the Supreme Court in a self-penned brief whose eloquent fury still stuns today.

“The government’s regulations, policies, practices and procedures, as applied in the instant case to petitioner specifically, and as applied to homosexuals generally [including in the military], are a stench in the nostrils of decent people, an offense against morality, an abandonment of reason, an affront to human dignity, an improper restraint upon proper freedom and liberty, a disgrace to any civilized society, and a violation of all that this nation stands for. These policies, practices, procedures, and regulation have gone too long unquestioned, and too long unexamined by the courts.”

Yale Law School professor William Eskridge, Jr., later called it revolutionary, “the birth of Gaylegal Equality Arguments”; and Frank “the Rosa Parks and the Martin Luther King and the Thurgood Marshall of the gay rights movement.”

In a “court of last appeal” letter to newly inaugurated President John F. Kennedy in May 1961, two months after the Court refused to hear his case, Kameny, still on his own, also denounced “the policies, practices, and official attitudes of the military” and “less-than-fully-honorable discharges.”

That November he cofounded the militant Mattachine Society of Washington (MSW; not a chapter of original Mattachine) whose four missions included challenging military homophobia— 29 years before the creation of the first national group dedicated to fighting the ban, and 32 years before its codification into DADT.

MSW’s unprecedented three pickets of the White House in 1965 included signs protesting the ban, and he led a picket at the Pentagon itself. 

 “STOP Wasting Taxpayers Money on Hunts for HOMOSEXUALS.” “65,000 Homosexual Sailors DEMAND NEW NAVY POLICY.” “Quarter Million Homosexual American Servicemen & Women Protest Armed Services Policies.” “15 Million U.S. Homosexuals Protest Treatment by Armed Forces.”

That year the Navy alone kicked out at least 1,365—some 100 more than all the branches kicked out in the worst year under DADT. 

The ban was the subject of the first same day, nationally coordinated gay rights protests in 1966. Frank led another Pentagon picket then flew to New York City to lead a protest there. He was essentially the only non-lawyer source of help for LGB service members trying to avoid being kicked out or at least be granted an Honorable Discharge characterization. 

Since at least 1964, he’d been looking for a “perfect test case” — a service member with a clean record willing to out themselves and fight the ban in court. Leonard Matlovich read that in the Air Force Times and called him describing his three tours in Vietnam, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and outstanding performance ratings. After a number of meetings, Leonard agreed to carry the banner, coming out on the front page of The New York Times and on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite on Memorial Day 1975.

The response was seismic, rippling from the Times to the Kokomo, Indiana, Tribune and around the world. So unlike the mainstream concept of a gay male one reporter asked him if he was really gay. The effect was magnified when he appeared in uniform on the cover of Time magazine with the bold, black caption “I Am a Homosexual”—putting a face on the ban for millions for the first time. Gay historian Nathaniel Frank, author of the definitive book on the evolution of DADT, “Unfriendly Fire,” said, “it began a national discussion on gay rights.” 

Accounts of his four-day discharge hearing filled newspapers and TV screens. When the Air Force board couldn’t see past “Homosexual” to the perfect airman, they recommended his discharge; Leonard telling the crush of reporters outside: “Maybe not in my lifetime, but we are going to win in the end.” He failed to overturn the ban, but a 1981 Pentagon mandate that, barring extenuating circumstances such as sex on base, all discharge characterizations for gays should be Honorable can be linked to his case. No one imagined how short his lifetime would be, but he filled it fighting for gay equality. Frank was the lead honorary pallbearer, walking by the horse-drawn caisson carrying his body in 1988, and today his grave in Washington’s Congressional Cemetery with its iconic gravestone is a place of pilgrimage next to a Veterans Administration cenotaph for Frank.

“Exemplary” Army Reserve Drill Instructor Miriam Ben-Shalom was honorably discharged in 1976 after refusing to deny she was a lesbian during questioning about her criticizing the discharge of Leonard Matlovich. In 1980, a federal judge ruled that her discharge violated the First, Fifth, and Ninth amendments of the Constitution—the first court ruling that the ban was unconstitutional and 30 years before the ruling against DADT in the Log Cabin Republicans challenge—and ordered her reinstated. The Army simply ignored the order for seven years; until a Circuit Court forced them to return her to duty. But they refused to allow her to reenlist at the end of that period of service. 

The Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal in February 1990. Three months later, she and five other veterans founded Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Veterans of America, the first such national lobby group; today American Veterans for Equal Rights (AVER). She and several other veterans were arrested at the White House in 1993 protesting the ban’s refashioning as DADT. She was arrested there again in 2010 protesting President Obama’s slow walk on repeal along with eight fellow veterans and four civilians including myself.

Sgt. Perry Watkins’ 16-year adventure in the U.S. Army began when Lyndon Johnson was president and would not end until George Bush père sat in the Oval Office. It spanned the globe, sometimes a comedy, sometimes a tragedy. It was sometimes even a musical comedy—but it was always, just as the ban itself, nonsensical; here ignoring that he was gay, there trying to kick him out because he was gay. Year after year, time after time, he demanded justice; and, in the end, it was his own truth that set him free—the truth he had told from the very beginning, during his draft physical in 1967 when he was 19 and checked the box indicating “homosexual tendencies.” 

The first gay African-American soldier to make headlines, while the Army ignored a court order to reinstate Miriam, in May 1982, Watkins also became the first out gay service member returned to duty by a court. But he was kicked out again, and, eventually, the Supreme Court let a lower court ruling stand that he should be reinstated in the name of fairness. Like Leonard, for whom he was an honorary pallbearer in 1988, he chose a settlement; passing himself in 1996. 

Petty Officer Keith Meinhold, a certified Master Training Specialist teaching sonar crews on P-3 Orion aircraft how to hunt submarines outed himself on ABC’s World News Tonight on May 19, 1992. Formerly recognized as “Aircrew Instructor of the Year,” his usually perfect performance ratings drop. Without any evidence, they claimed knowledge of his sexual orientation had “adversely affected his performance of duty and adversely affected the good order and discipline.” Though given an honorable discharge he sued and was ordered reinstated. Overall, his return was met positively, and his crew continued to win new awards. He retired four years later with full military honors, naval band music, a Navy Achievement Medal, and a 60-foot American flag.

Purposely coinciding with Meinhold’s coming out the same day, 25-year old Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Tracy Thorne, first in his class in flight training, outed himself on “Nightline.” A bombardier-navigator flying A6 Intruders, like a ship on a roiling sea, his status repeatedly changed due to the unknowns of what might happen—or not—to the ban following Bill Clinton’s possible election, then election. He joined a five-week, 32-city cross-country veterans bus Tour of Duty to try to drum up public support for an end to the ban. He testified against the ban before the Senate Armed Services Committee — homophobic Sen. Sam Nunn’s dog and pony show where he was jeered by 1,000 sailors and Marines. To wild applause and laughter, infamous racist Sen. Strom Thurmond told him, “Your lifestyle is not normal. It’s not normal for a man to want to be with a man or a woman with a woman. Have you considered getting help from a medical or psychiatric standpoint?” He filed a lawsuit in 1994 and returned to active duty with the stipulation that the Navy could attempt to discharge him under DADT. In 1995, he was discharged. He sued again; his challenge ending when the Supreme Court refused to hear his case.

Their high-profile outings were planned to coincide with the same-day introduction of the long forgotten end-the-ban Military Freedom Act of 1992. Popular war hero and chair of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell’s statements to Congress killed not only that bill but crippled Bill Clinton’s intentions even before he had the party’s nomination. Powell: “Skin color is a benign, non-behavioral characteristic. Sexual orientation is perhaps the most profound of human behavioral characteristics.” His disingenuous, pseudo intellectual way of saying, “they choose to be gay so it’s not a civil rights issue.”

Navy Reserve Lieutenant Zoe Dunning outed herself at a Jan. 16, 1993, rally in support of Keith Meinhold. She was allowed to stay in after convincing a board that “status” did not equal “conduct” — a finding immediately forbidden in future cases by the Pentagon. By retirement in 2007, she’d risen to the rank of commander, having served openly for more than 13 years. In December 2010, as co-chair of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) Board of Governors, she was invited to stand next to the president as he signed the provisional DADT repeal bill. Co-founder Dixon Osburn just released “Mission Possible,” his account of the crucial role SLDN played in ending the ban.

Former Marine of the Year Sergeant Justin Elzie had served 10 years when he outed himself on “World News Tonight” on Jan. 29, 1993. The Corps reneged on their existing approval for his early separation in April with benefits, moving to honorably discharge him immediately with none. He testified to Congress in support of ending the policy ban. A judge ordered he be retained until his legal challenge was resolved. He eventually settled out of court, receiving the early retirement bonus after having served as an out gay Marine for four more years during which he was recommended for promotion three times. He was one of our 13 arrested at the White House in November 2010 demanding DADT repeal.

Twenty-three-year old Desert Storm veteran and former Sixth Army Soldier of the Year Joe Zuniga outed himself at a huge event honoring gay military activists the night before the April 1993 March on Washington, including Meinhold and Thorne. “The roar was deafening. People cried. People hugged each other.” – The Washington Post. The next morning the three joined the veterans’ contingent in the march with hundreds of thousands.

Conversely, his Army command was enraged, discharging him, however honorably, in record time—in less than a month. They also brutally demoted him from Sergeant to Specialist after falsely accusing him of wearing a decoration he had not earned. His battalion commander melodramatically threw newspapers in which his story had appeared into a trashcan during his administrative hearing. But he continued to speak out all across America, and appeared in the historic first national gay TV ad; created for the Campaign for Military Service, an ad hoc group representing multiple existing gay groups hoping to offset the rabidly homophobic campaign of those in and out of the Democratic-controlled Congress determined to prevent President Bill Clinton from ending the ban. He also travelled the country and TV newsrooms trying to promote public support.

Army First Lieutenant and Iraq veteran Dan Choi came out on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on March 19, 2009, resulting in his discharge in June 2010. Far from just another came-out-on-TV story, Dan was the first Asian-American to become a leader in the anti-ban movement, and shook that movement when he began to engage in nonviolent direct action in the second year of the Obama administration after the president broke his promise to start working with Congress to end DADT when he took office. Dan allied with new direct action group GetEQUAL, and a small but growing number of people joined him in handcuffing themselves to the White House fence (including transgender veteran Autumn Sandeen); each time growing more media coverage, never more critical than in November 2010 when word went round that the repeal provision bill, stalled in the lame duck Congress, was going to be withdrawn likely damning the chance for repeal for years. Republicans would take over the House in 2011.

I have no proof that the action Dan led that month, joined by Miriam, Justin, et al., helped salvage the bill and, thus, repeal. I can only say that I am proud to have been next to them; one wrist handcuffed to the White House fence behind me; and holding Leonard’s Time magazine cover aloft with my free hand.

“Remember your roots, your history, and the forebears’ shoulders on which you stand.” – Marion Wright Edelman. 

Continue Reading

Opinions

Biden should develop national digital vaccine passport now

Those who refuse shots must be locked out of travel, jobs, schools

Published

on

COVID-19 vaccine, gay news, Washington Blade

President Biden finally mandated vaccinations for all federal employees and Mayor Bowser has started doing the same for city employees. It is time to take every legal avenue to mandate people get vaccinated since so many don’t seem to have the will or even compassion for their children and the community to do it on their own. The president proposed Executive Orders including asking the Department of Labor to set a rule mandating every company with over 100 employees demand they be vaccinated or tested weekly. Interesting to hear Mike Pence blast Biden’s vaccine speech: ‘Unlike anything I’d ever heard from an American president.’” Clearly he has only listened to Republican lies and BS.

D.C. LGBTQ bars took the lead to require vaccinations for admission, now it is up to the mayor to mandate this. In the meantime every restaurant, bar, and public venue must do the same. If we are a society that really cares for each other, mandating vaccinations is a way to prove it and enforce care for the community. It’s past time to stop coddling those who refuse to get vaccinated. 

The president must now immediately order a national digital vaccine passport to help those vaccinated prove it in places that require it. The United States must join other nations of the world who already have done this. Add it to Global Entry requirements. Mr. President, stop prevaricating and do it now. No one is required to have this proof but if they don’t they should be locked out of travel, jobs, schools, and entertainment venues requiring vaccination. 

Airlines should announce those who aren’t vaccinated but eligible will not be allowed to fly and Amtrak should do the same for rail travel. Mr. President, support the Safe Travel Act introduced by Don Beyer (D-Va.), which mandates this. You shouldn’t be able to enter a baseball or football stadium without proof of vaccination. You should need proof to enter a movie theater. Theaters in New York and D.C. now require proof of vaccination to buy a ticket. It’s not hard to do if the will is there.

I was in Rehoboth Beach for the two weeks before Labor Day and appalled at indoor bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues that didn’t require proof of vaccination or even masks. I heard regularly about breakthrough COVID cases in outdoor venues I went to, so clearly there were many cases of those who weren’t vaccinated. CAMP Rehoboth had trouble selling tickets to its SunFest concerts and then did the right thing requiring proof of vaccination and a mask and sales picked up as people were more comfortable going to what became very successful events. The Washington Blade recently announced it would require proof of vaccination to attend its Sept. 17 benefit in Rehoboth to raise funds for the Steve Elkins Memorial Fellowship given out by the Blade Foundation. I applaud the Blade for doing the responsible thing. 

We may never be fully rid of COVID but surely we must do everything we can to protect each other and our children even if it means mandating people to do the right thing. I write as an older American and cancer survivor who spent 10 months eating every meal alone to protect myself during the pandemic. I wore a mask to protect both myself and others with whom I came in contact. It wasn’t that difficult. It still isn’t. When Mayor Bowser reinstated the mask requirement for all indoor settings in D.C. I put my mask back on everywhere including in the hallways and lobby of my condo building. I wore it when I went to visit a neighbor currently going through chemotherapy to protect her. Again, so simple to do. 

It is beyond comprehension why a parent wouldn’t want to protect their unvaccinated child. Why they would fight to keep their child from wearing a mask in school when they know how many children are now getting sick. Judges are debating whether Gov. Ron DeSantis’s no masks in school order in Florida is legal and whether he has the authority to mandate it around the state. Another judge stayed his order mandating cruise ships embarking from Florida having to take unvaccinated passengers. One questions whether in the long run, as more children get sick and some die, DeSantis’s views will continue to be a winning political strategy for him. Clearly his policies aren’t based in science. In the end, when the rubber meets the road, people are into self-preservation no matter how long and hard they first rejected it.  

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular