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Remembering Sally Rogers, my first queer crush

‘Dick Van Dyke Show’ star was early feminist pioneer

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Sally Rogers, gay news, Washington Blade
Rose Marie portrayed Sally Rogers on the ‘Dick Van Dyke Show.’ (Photo public domain)

In Southern, New Jersey in the early 1960s, as a pre-teen who wrote stories, liked girls and wanted to be a writer when I grew up, I rarely saw people like me. Even on TV. Most women in life or on screen were wives and mothers who didn’t have jobs. Those who did work were schoolteachers or secretaries. The few single women seemed always to be widows or witches.

Sure, I worshiped Jo March, the sisterly scribe of “Little Women.” But, she ended up married! Holden Caulfield was a boy, and even at 10, I knew Shakespeare was out of my league. Fortunately, Sally Rogers, my first queer crush was there for me. She wore a black bow in her hair, bought herself a fur coat (this was before PETA), belted out “Come Rain or Come Shine” at the drop of a hat and cracked one-liners at the speed of light.

Rogers was the sophisticated, talented, single, comedy-writer character on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” The series, one of the greatest TV sitcoms of all time ran from 1961 to 1966. (It’s streaming now on Hulu, Prime Video and Tubi, and you can buy it on Amazon or Apple.)

Recently, I’ve been thinking of Rogers. Because her creator, Carl Reiner, the writer, actor and director, died on June 29 at age 98 of natural causes at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. Reiner, who was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for humor, based “The Dick Van Dyke Show” on his experience as a husband and father and as a writer and second banana on the 1950s TV variety show “Your Show of Shows.”

“The Dick Van Dyke Show” toggles between the home life of Rob (Dick Van Dyke) and Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) Petrie, and the work life of Rob as head writer of the fictional “Alan Brady Show.” Rogers (Rose Marie) and Buddy (Morey Amsterdam) are the other writers. Mel (played by gay actor Richard Deacon) is the frazzled producer. The characters work for Alan Brady, the program’s frenetic, egomaniac star (played hilariously by Reiner).

Today, there’s still gender stereotyping. But at least we speak of it. We call out men who insist that wearing masks in the pandemic negates their manhood. But when I was a kid, there was no talk of gender stereotyping, gender nonconformity or gender-bending. Boys were boys, and girls were girls. Boys became men – who worked, came home to their obedient wives and kids and grilled steaks for outdoor summer cook-outs. Girls could be tomboys. But they grew up to be feminine women who kept house, cooked, gave dinner parties, packed school lunches for the children and dabbed perfume behind their ears.

Above all, girls weren’t supposed to be too strong (independent), funny or smart. “There’s something scary about women who are too cerebral – who wisecrack too much,” my Dad said one night at dinner.

In this pink is for girls, blue is for boys, world, Sally Rogers was a lifeline for me and countless other girls. Rogers is gender-bending. She has a job that she excels at and loves. (She’s one of the best comedy writers in showbiz!) She makes Rob chicken soup when he’s sick, and plays poker. Rogers has her bad days. But mostly Sally, with her cat, lives a full, single life. She dates, has friends, visits her Aunt Agnes and keeps up with the latest in theater. As is the case with so many of us, her friends are her family. As Rose Marie told many interviewers, “Sally was the first women’s libber.”

Sure, Roger’s lonely at times. And today her (sometimes serious, other times, joking) search for a husband is so heteronormative. Yet, she didn’t depend on men financially or for validation. She liked herself.

Without you, Sally, I wouldn’t be writing this. Thank you for helping me and so many others to be ourselves!

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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To comply or not to comply is not the question

Implementation of pro-LGBTQI+ rulings in Botswana and Namibia is unsatisfactory

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Over the past five years, the highest courts in Namibia and Botswana have made significant decisions in favor of minority groups’ human rights through favorable judgments and court orders. However, the implementation of these orders related to the rights of LGBTQI+ in Botswana and Namibia has not been satisfactory so far. 

In 2016, the Botswana Court of Appeal ordered the Registrar of Societies to register the Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) after they had been denied registration based on the criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct. In 2017, the High Court of Botswana pronounced that denying a transgender man legal gender recognition undermines their dignity and humanity and ordered the Ministry of Home Affairs to change his identity documents from female to male. In 2021, the Court of Appeal in Botswana decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual conduct. In May 2023, the Supreme Court of Namibia ordered the government to recognize same-sex unions concluded outside Namibia, where same-sex marriages are legal in terms of the Immigration Act. While all these cases constitute landmark cases in securing and guaranteeing the rights of LGBTIQ persons, there is a growing trend of non-implementation when it comes to such judgements.

Government officials have partially or selectively implemented or completely disregarded the court decisions. In the LEGABIBO registration case, the Botswana Court of Appeal found that it is unconstitutional to deny registration under the assumption that LGBTQI+ are not recognized in the Bill of Rights and will offend the morality of the nation. The court found that LGBTQI+, like any other citizen or group of people in Botswana, have the right to freedom of association, expression and assembly, and issued an order for LEGABIBO to be registered, an order that was fulfilled promptly. However, seven years later, in March 2024, an LBQ group’s efforts to register are met with sentiments similar to those before the LEGABIBO jurisprudence. Senior public officials resisted the highest court decision to register this new group. Although their reasons are not stated as clearly as LEGABIBO rejection, government officials are still surreptitiously blocking the registration of LGBTQI+ organizations. 

Similarly, we have observed the selective application technique unfolding in legal gender recognition cases. In this case, the government officials have interpreted this as a single order that only applies to the applicants and not “all persons.” According to anecdotal evidence based on the experiences of individuals who sought legal gender recognition, they are instructed to acquire individualized court orders, a complete misinterpretation of the court’s instructions, burdening the courts to issue duplicate orders. This selective interpretation is a covert move by government officials to undermine judicial decisions and transfer the responsibility and burden of implementation to resource-constrained individuals, limiting access to justice. What is also curious is why the court system does not address repeat applications on the same issue. 

With the decriminalization court order, the attorney general acted in contempt of the judgment when he, instead of scrapping Sections 164 (a) and (c), blatantly ignored the court order and put a bill before parliament for debate. The highest court in Botswana had made a carefully considered decision to decriminalize, as indicated by a statement from SALC (Southern Africa Litigation Center) and by many contributors to this issue; there is no need to debate; the court has decided.

In Namibia’s case, compliance with the court order means recognizing foreign partners in same-sex marriages with their Namibian partners as spouses, thereby issuing them an immigration status that allows them to reside and work in Namibia. Despite the commitment by the Ministry of Home Affairs to comply, government Officials still refuse to respect the Supreme Court ruling, as indicated by Mr. Digashu’s experience: 

“In one of my many visits to the immigration offices, the officer informed me that the court order was only meant for the couples directly engaged in the court case, unaware that I was one of those couples. I got the impression that the immigration officials have adopted a dishonest tactic to deter other same-sex couples, letting them believe that the judgement does not protect them.”

One of the most significant contributors to non-compliance is the media. The media reports on the Supreme Court decision on the Digashu/Seiller-lilies matter ran with the sensational headline “Supreme Court gives legal status to same-sex marriages,” misinforming the public and fueling negativity. Misinformation affects not only the litigants and community members but also feeds the already hostile public attitudes towards LGBTQI+ persons. Members of parliament and religious communities put pressure on government officials. Unfortunately, parliament responded with a marriage bill that contradicted the judgment, Instead of clarifying what the ruling means and whom it affects. Public officials reflect legislators’ sentiments, disregarding principles of democracy, the rule of law, and justice for all, which are clearly stated in the constitution, and further undermining the independence of the judiciary. 

These are only a few of the many court orders that government officials have disregarded to the disadvantage and inconvenience of the minority who went to court to seek redress. For example, in the case of Mr. Daniel Digashu, he is given a visitor’s visa every time he leaves the country, which means he is forced to exit the country at its expiration date or face the wrath of the law. The cost of frequent travel and the personal emotional toll on himself and his family is insurmountable. Let alone constant dealings with questions, often followed by ridicule from immigration officials.

The question, therefore, is, what must happen to government officials who disregard court orders? 

The chief justice in Kenya offers a solution to this conundrum. Recently, the chief justice observed that senior government officials are guilty of defying court orders and suggested remedies such as impeachment of individual officers responsible. Botswana and Namibia must take a leaf out of that book.   

Of great concern is also that government officials are not transparent about the limitations of the court orders to enable the litigants and beneficiaries to seek clarification from the courts, nor are they open to engaging with civil society and affected communities to improve compliance. Are the court orders vague and, therefore, challenging to implement? Being transparent about implementation constraints will go a long way in guiding civil society on how they can support the government. Even in their resource-constrained status, CSOs must continue to monitor compliance and return to the courts for enforcement, including publicizing non-compliance in the media for public engagement. 

In conclusion, the rule of law requires that all court decisions be implemented promptly, thoroughly and effectively. The government has no choice whether to execute or not execute the court orders. 

The authors are consultants at the Southern Africa Litigation Center (SALC). SALC promotes and advances human rights and the rule of law in Southern Africa, primarily through strategic litigation and capacity-strengthening support to lawyers and grassroots organizations.

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Another reason to vote for Biden: protecting our nation’s health

U.S. should vote ‘yes’ on WHO’s Pandemic Agreement

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The United States must vote YES on the World Health Organization’s Pandemic Agreement, to allow it to begin its road to final adoption. Here in the United States, we lost more than one million people to COVID-19. There is hardly a person living in the United States today, who was not impacted in some way by the pandemic. We must be thankful President Biden and his administration are working hard to see this doesn’t happen again. That we never again need to close down our businesses, our schools, and in essence, our country. That we don’t see hospitals overrun, and bodies stored in refrigerated trailers, because the morgues are full, and there are too many to bury, and give funerals to, at once. To ensure this doesn’t ever happen again, the president has had his administration working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and its 194 nation member nations.

The WHO, with the help of the United States, has been working on a Pandemic Agreement to enhance global cooperation and ensure a more consistent and coordinated global response to global health threats. The agreement, if eventually adopted, will enhance sharing of information about pathogens with pandemic potential, to ensure a more rapid and effective global response than we saw with COVID-19. It will enhance sharing of medical countermeasures, including vaccines and therapeutics, which will lead to a more equitable global response.

If anyone looks at the draft Pandemic Agreement realistically, they will see it is a matter of national security for the United States. Any thinking person understands, in our globalized world, where travel is so easy, pathogens, which can cause pandemics, easily cross borders. Through these new accords, which the United States is helping to write, WHO, with its 194 member states, is trying to get all their member states to share information with WHO, and through that, they will all then have the tools to protect their own populations. This in turn, will help protect the American people from pathogens, with pandemic potential, from reaching our shores.

This clearly seems like a rational way to proceed based on the information we learned from COVID-19. But it seems, in another irrational moment, and they have had many, all 49 Republican United States Senators, under the misguided recommendation of MAGA Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), and Ron Johnson (R-WI), sent a letter to President Biden calling on the administration to withdraw its support for any agreements being considered by the WHO at their World Health Assembly (WHA), being held this month. They oppose the WHO having any authority and potentially weakening United States’ sovereignty. They clearly don’t understand the role of the WHO and most likely have not bothered to read any of the drafts of the pandemic agreements. Their letter clearly caters to their MAGA cult leader, Donald Trump, who thinks ‘America First’ makes us safer. It doesn’t, especially when it comes to a possible new pandemic, and pathogens crossing country borders.

Again, to ensure it is a positive agreement for the people of the United States, the Biden Administration has played a key role in negotiating the text of the Pandemic Agreement, to make sure it reflects the priorities and national interests of the United States.

Contrary to the MAGA Republican Senators misguided arguments for not voting to adopt the plan at the World Health Assembly on May 27th, this vote would not bind any country. Rather, it would simply start the process for consideration at the domestic level. That is when these Republican MAGA senators, and the people of the United States, can debate it. It would then only apply to us if we were to adopt it. Even then it would need a total of 60 countries to approve it, for it to come into legal force. Now again, these misguided Republican MAGA senators might have missed it, but even after it is approved by 60 countries it would, even then, only apply to those countries that approved it. So, the Pandemic Agreement would come into force for the U.S. only if, and when, the U.S. decides to formally adopt it.

If it were to be adopted, and I for one believe it should be, the Pandemic Agreement will be an instrument of international law, akin to other instruments against global threats such as the Geneva Conventions, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Paris Agreement, the International Health Regulations, and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

For me, this is another important reason to vote for President Biden. Remember the alternative. Trump once believed injecting bleach would solve the COVID-19 problem. I don’t want him, or the MAGA senators who wrote the letter, having control over my health, and the health of our nation.

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

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Celebrating 15th anniversary of Harvey Milk Day

A powerful reminder that one person can make a difference

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The Harvey Milk Forever Stamp was unveiled at a ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on May 22, 2014. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Harvey Milk’s birthday, May 22, is officially a Day of Special Significance in California. Other states also honor Milk.

Milk was the first openly gay man elected to public office in U.S. history. In 1977, he was elected to a seat on the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco. His term began in January 1978 and ended in November when disgruntled former Supervisor Dan White assassinated Milk and Mayor George Moscone at City Hall.

In his 1982 book “Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk,” Randy Shilts wrote a moving account of San Francisco’s 1978 memorial for Milk. A “massive crowd stretched the entire distance from City Hall to Castro Street, some 40,000 strong utterly silent,” Shilts wrote. The crowd “ostensibly memorialized both George Moscone and Harvey, but few speakers quarreled that the crowd had amassed chiefly to remember the gangly ward politician [Milk] who had once called himself the mayor of Castro Street.”

Shilts quoted Board of Supervisors President Dianne Feinstein, at the time acting mayor, telling the mourners that Milk “was a leader who represented your voices.” Another speaker said Milk “was to us what Dr. King was to his people. Harvey was a prophet [who] lived by a vision.” Equality was Milk’s vision.

Shilts presciently titled the last section in his book “The Legend Begins.” In 1979, after a jury gave assassin White a light seven-year sentence, LGBT rioters rocked San Francisco in what is called “The White Night Riots.” During the riots, Shilts wrote that “a lesbian university professor yelled into a feeble bullhorn: ‘Harvey Milk lives.’” Since 1978, Harvey Milk’s courageous leadership has been celebrated globally.

Over four years, 2006-2010, San Francisco reminded the country that Milk was a gay man worthy of great honors. The 2008 movie “Milk,” filmed partly in San Francisco, with Sean Penn as Milk, ignited greater public interest in the legendary gay activist. Gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and Penn won Academy Awards in 2009.

The film led Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign legislation making Milk’s birthday a Day of Special Significance. Also, President Barack Obama awarded Milk with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. On Milk’s 84th birthday, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative Forever stamp in his honor.

California’s Harvey Milk Day recognizes Milk for his contributions to the state. It also encourages public schools to conduct “suitable commemorative exercises” to honor Milk.

“To me, [Milk] was a man who was a capitalist, and an entrepreneur who happened to be gay,” said Republican Sen. Abel Maldonado, the only Republican to vote for the bill to create Harvey Milk Day.

The newer scholarship about Milk provided additional insight into his activism. “An Archive of Hope: Harvey Milk’s Speeches and Writings” edited by James Edward Black, Charles Morris, and Frank Robinson, published in 2013 by the Univ. of California Press, is an excellent example.

The book’s title is drawn from Milk’s 1978 speech called “The Hope Speech.” He spoke about people [gays, seniors, Black Americans, disabled, Latinos, Asians] “who’ve lost hope.” He proceeds to talk about inspiring hope in others who are struggling when the “pressures at home are too great.” It is a passionate speech, based largely on Milk’s conversations with people in the Castro. In a review of the book for The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, I wrote it is: “An important contribution to the corpus of work on Harvey Milk as a writer and orator.”

Milk believed that it was important for members of the LGBTQIA+ community to come out. If more people were aware of their LGBTQIA+ associates who were their friends, family, and loved ones, then discrimination would end. To Milk, coming out would lead to ensuring LGBTQIA+ civil rights.

In 2007, during Pride in San Francisco I worked at a nonprofit’s booth in Civic Center Plaza. A man stopped to talk. I mostly listened. He was a veterinarian from a small town in Arkansas. He was gay and closeted. He regularly visited San Francisco for Pride. Afterward, he regularly returned to his closeted life in Arkansas. I felt sorry for him. Though I was a stranger to him, he needed to come out to me. I was reminded of Milk’s wisdom about the freedom of coming out.    

Harvey Milk Day is for all people who need hope. Milk’s life is a lesson that one person can make a difference. A strong, united community inspired by Milk and others has changed and continues to change the world.  

Milk’s short political career led to long-term LGBTQIA+ political leadership from the Bay Area to Washington, D.C. to Miami to Seattle. To paraphrase a Woody Guthrie song: This LGBTQIA+ Land is Our Land. Happy Milk Day 2024!

James Patterson is a lifetime member of the American Foreign Service Association.

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