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Ghosts in the Courtroom

The price paid to uphold our love

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Frank Kameny, gay news, Washington Blade
Frank Kameny, gay news, Washington Blade

Frank Kameny (Washington Blade archive photo by Doug Hinckle)

The late gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny’s exhortations ring in my ears as I anticipate arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to license same-sex marriages.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in his dissent in the 2013 Windsor case, dismissed as “snippets of legislative history” the evidence for decades of anti-gay animus by the U.S. government. This erasure of our struggle is not unique to judges. Tom Brokaw’s 2007 book, Boom! Voices of the Sixties, prompted a letter from Kameny charging, “Your book simply deletes the momentous events of that decade which led to the vastly altered and improved status of gays in our culture today.”

Such deletions inspired the re-establishment in late 2011 of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C. (MSDC), which Kameny founded in 1961 but allowed to lapse in 2006. The new MSDC is dedicated to archive activism for LGBT equality. As an officer of the earlier organization, I joined Charles Francis, who led the successful effort to preserve the Kameny Papers at the Library of Congress, in creating the new one.

Mattachine’s research led to the March 6 filing of its amicus brief in Obergefell v. Hodges and related cases by its legal counsel, McDermott Will & Emery LLP. The brief complements “The People’s Brief” prepared for the Human Rights Campaign, which explores the historical and political context of state marriage bans. The Mattachine brief states:

“Original source materials obtained and recently released by the MSDC reveal the backdrop of animus in front of which the states enacted the bans now at issue…. The historical background … reveals a culture of animus against LGBT Americans, justifications for excluding them from the privileges given to all other Americans….”

After the Second World War, the federal government began firing its homosexual employees, armed with the FBI’s Sex Deviate program in 1951 and President Eisenhower’s Executive Order 10450 in 1953. The Civil Service Commission (CSC), later renamed the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), conducted the purge. After adverse court rulings, CSC adjusted its arguments to continue firing people for private, consensual behavior that was irrelevant to their jobs. It even expelled heterosexually married father William Dew for a few same-sex encounters as a student; he fought for years before being restored.

It is a grim history. Eisenhower advisor Arthur Vandenberg, Jr. was forced to resign when the FBI learned of his homosexuality. CSC General Counsel L.V. Meloy used a sensational Florida investigative report to purge federal employees. CSC Chairman John W. Macy, Jr. denied prying into people’s private sex lives despite CSC’s investigations, then said, “We see no third sex, no oppressed minority or secret society, but only individuals….”

CSC persisted after being rebuked by a federal appeals court in 1971. “By the 1970s,” the brief states, “the Commission had reluctantly slowed its purge.” But the lie about a gay security threat lingered. In the 1990s, President Clinton affirmed a cultural shift with executive orders barring anti-gay discrimination in security clearances and federal civilian service. Yet as late as the George W. Bush administration, Special Counsel Scott Bloch fought gay protections.

The marriage cases being argued April 28 call to mind Kameny’s defiant 1969 statement to the Defense Department in the security clearance case of Benning Wentworth, concerning a previous applicant known only by his case number: “OSD 66-44 may have compromised…. He may have crawled. He may have groveled. He may have submitted to Departmental blackmail of the most contemptible kind. We will not. We stand our ground. We throw down the gauntlet, clearly, unequivocally and unambiguously.” These bracing words stir both pride and sorrow at the price still paid to uphold our love.

The Mattachine brief, and the archival rescue that went into it, is in partial payment of an historic debt. But victory in the marriage cases will not complete that debt. The thousands, living and dead, who were persecuted by their own government because of whom they loved, deserve a formal apology like the one OPM Director John Berry gave Frank Kameny in 2009. Even as we move forward, we reclaim our roots. We cannot allow our gay foremothers and forefathers to be forgotten.

 

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at [email protected].

Copyright © 2015 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.

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Democrats must stop the self-immolation

We can win the presidency and Congress if we stick together

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It is both fascinating and depressing, that groups like Our Revolution, which Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) began in 2016 to screw Hillary Clinton, are still out there screwing other Democrats. 

They are currently trying to defeat President Biden in the Michigan primary. They couch what they are doing “as trying to influence what President Biden is doing about the Israel/Hamas war.” But, reality is, any headline attacking Joe Biden, is helping Donald Trump, no matter how you try to sugarcoat it. Joe Biden will not make foreign policy based on the far-left wing of the Democratic Party. They have every right to speak out, and Sanders was even willing to hurt our national security by voting against Biden’s bill for aid to Ukraine and Israel, and a number of other allies. The bill even includes humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza. Sanders is an embarrassment. But if he doesn’t speak out against ‘Our Revolution’ he is also a hypocrite, as he claims to support Biden. Thankfully, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer did speak out, urging people to vote for Biden in the primary.  

Trying to influence a change in policy is fine, and speaking out for what you believe is great. But if you don’t look at the global perspective, and at all the possible repercussions of your actions and words, you are not very smart. Remember, on the issue of Gaza, if you want to support the Palestinian people, then having Trump in office is far worse than Biden. Trump claims to be best friends with Netanyahu, he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, he will totally abandon Gaza and the Palestinian people. So, if that is what you want in the White House, then attacking Biden so he loses a primary, and then by either voting for a third party, or staying home, for the general election, that is what you will get.

The Democratic Party can learn a lot from Tom Suozzi’s win in a swing district in New York, in the special election to replace expelled former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.). Counter to what some are saying, how he ran the race is important. He managed to turn the immigration issue around against his Republican opponent by tying her to Trump, and the MAGA Republicans who today want to leave the border open. He used the issue of abortion by highlighting his position as a pro-choice candidate, against an opponent who was pro-life. He also told the district he was willing to work with Republicans when necessary to get things done. He told the voters he understood the founding fathers set up a government requiring compromise, not on your principles, but on ways to move forward what you believe in. Yes, he is a moderate, but then so are the vast majority of Americans.  

It is clear we live in difficult times. The issue of Biden’s age is being blown out of proportion, and the media are helping to do that. Every Democrat needs to read, talk about, and share, the recent column from the New York Times, “We’re Thinking About Biden’s Memory and Age in the Wrong Way.” It talks about, and explains, how we all begin to lose memory of certain things starting at the age of 30. How not remembering a name, or a date, doesn’t in any way indicate an inability to think about and work on important and complex issues. 

We also have to understand how far off polls can be, and often are, these days. What we as Democrats need to do to win this election is stick to what we know people respond to. That includes talking about Republicans wanting to restrict a woman’s right to health care, and control of her own body. It means we talk about how Trump wants us to abandon NATO, and has even encouraged Putin to invade our allies. He has no problem with Putin taking as much land as he wants. We need to remind people about how Trump staged a coup, which thankfully failed, and remind voters he will try again if we reelect him. We need to play the tape of him saying he wants to be a dictator, and will use the Department of Justice to get even with his enemies. How electing him will mean the end of our democracy. 

Democrats can win the presidency, and the Congress, if we stick together. Divided we will fail, and Trump will be in the White House. 

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

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Opinions

Pinto shepherds ‘Secure D.C.’ crime bill through Council

Republicans in Congress are closely watching measure

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D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Council member Brooke Pinto is shepherding the comprehensive crime bill, Secure D.C., through the Council. This is not easy considering some Council members are always looking to ensure we aren’t too tough on criminals, especially juveniles. In talking with Council member Pinto, she is cognizant, and reminding her fellow council members that the Republican Congress is watching this closely. 

I know Mayor Bowser is concerned about this as well. She submitted a bill, most of which is now included in the comprehensive bill, and wants to see it passed without additional amendments. On Feb. 6, the bill was passed on a first vote by the Council 12-0, with Ward 8 Council member, Trayon White, Sr., not voting. It is in his Ward most of the crime is being committed. Those living there deserve to be protected as much as those who live in Ward 3. 

As the Council now moves toward a second vote, which is needed before the mayor can sign the legislation, the plan is to do that in March. The mayor has asked that it be done sooner and that there are no more amendments weakening the bill. Once it is passed and signed, it will go to Congress for the review period and everyone is aware of what they did to the rewrite of the criminal code. Not only the Congress, but the people of the District, want a strong, tough on crime bill. People are afraid. 

Last year was a tough year for D.C. with crime running rampant in parts of the District. There were 274 homicides, a 20-year high. Carjackings were epidemic. There were 906, more than double the previous year. People are scared. A good friend recently told me it is the first time in years he looks behind himself when walking in Dupont in the evening. There was the recent shooting near the Dupont Metro on Connecticut and Q Street. The police have still not released detailed information on that. It was rumored to be a road rage incident, but the facts aren’t out. Again, people are scared, and that is not how anyone wants to live.

I am not naïve. There are many reasons one can point to for the spike in crime, including juvenile crime. The pandemic had a lot to do with that. There are young people who weren’t in school for two years, many without any supervision. Their parents were the ones out working, making a living, having to leave home to go to work. They didn’t have the option to stay home and work remotely so they could monitor what their kids were doing. Many juveniles committing crimes come from homes where there is food insecurity, and other issues impacting their lives. Clearly, we must deal with those issues if we are to change things in the long term. But the reality is we cannot wait to do that, the Council must act now. We must make those who are thinking of committing a crime understand there will be serious repercussions for what they do. 

The bill the Council is considering makes carjacking a more serious offense, as well as any crime committed with a gun. We also need to deal with the parents, or guardians, of children, like the recent 9- and 13-year-olds, who threatened a woman with a knife. Someone must be held responsible for those kids. Do they need to be removed from the situation they are now in? What is that situation? We need to involve the faith community, as well as all city resources, in this effort. However we do it, we must pass a serious crime bill that will pass muster with both the people of the District, and Congress.  

There are issues about the bill that are still being debated. One relates to drug free zones in which loiterers would be subject to arrest. Then they have removed the section that would have allowed all people arrested to be swabbed for their DNA. One issue being debated is how long one can hold both adults and youth in detention while awaiting trials. The bill would make it a felony to discharge a firearm in public, making permanent something that was put into emergency legislation last summer. 

Again, the bottom line is, for both the mayor and the Council, they must do something about crime. The debate is simply how tough to be on criminals, and what programs need to be funded that will make a difference, and make people safer. 

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

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Letter-to-the-Editor

Real Agency for Community Development helps LGBTQ Ugandans who have fled country

Yoweri Museveni signed Anti-Homosexuality Act in May 2023

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Real Agency for Community Development was established by a proactive group of people who have fled persecution due to their sexual orientation in their respective districts of origin (Isingiro, Mbarara and Ntungamo) and now live in the Nakivale refugee camp where they hoped to find greater safety and freedom.

Homosexuality, however, is illegal in Uganda and they face new challenges: Arbitrary arrests, discrimination, corrective rape, kidnapping, robbery, stigma, homophobia, harassment and bullying. RACD has identified more than 123 LGBTQ Ugandans and other refugees living in the Nakivale and Oruchinga refugee camps. The organization provides them with services depending on their unique situations.

The legal and social marginalization experienced by these people results in many violations of LGBTQ persons’ liberty and threats to their safety. 

Since the beginning of this year, we have already seen three people arbitrarily arrested for being LGBTQ. Another two LGBTQ community members were brutally attacked by a gang of 10 homophobic neighbors in Kampala. One of them had his jaw shattered and had to get a surgery to insert a metal to his jaw. HIV prevention drugs and equipment are always a necessary part of the work with LGBTQ people and female sex workers. The general economic situation in Uganda is decreasing rapidly, and LGBTQ persons suffer the most. Many members reported that they pass many days without being able to obtain any food.

Please email [email protected] for more information about RACD. Donations can also be made to RACD through this GoFundMe link.

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