Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fanning Flames of Change: A Tribute to Darren Manzella

Perhaps it’s the Marine in me, but I don’t use the term “hero” lightly -- It should be reserved for those who boldly go above and beyond and take extraordinary risks to do what’s right against tremendous odds despite real and potential negative consequences.

Darren Manzella was a hero.

I had the honor and privilege of working with and getting to know Darren during my short time as a grassroots organizer for a national nonprofit called the Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network (now called OutServe-SLDN) which led the battle to repeal the archaic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) statute.

In the winter of 2009 we traveled to Boston together to meet with folks working on repeal of DADT.  It was the first time I watched him give a talk he frequently gave to groups, media, and in front of Congressional committees to change people’s hearts and minds about gays serving in the military. He was persuasive. Not just because he lit up the place with his smile, charm and charisma, but because he spoke honestly, humbly and sincerely from his heart based on his own experiences, which were impressively significant.

He enlisted in the Army in 2002, was trained as a medical specialist and served two tours in Iraq. Among many other distinctions he was awarded the Combat Medical Badge.  While witnessing the brutalities of war he wondered, like most combat soldiers do, if he would ever return home. But unlike most combat soldiers, he was saddened by the thought that those he loved most may never know all of who he was. So he came out to his friends and family. “I had kept myself in the closet for years,” he said, “and I didn't want to live like that anymore.”  He started dating. A few photos and videos circulated of him enjoying time with his boyfriend. In some they are kissing. Word gradually got out, rumors spread, and he started receiving threatening, anonymous emails. “Turn down the flame,” said one.  Every day he wondered if and when military police might show up to arrest him. He described it as a time of “fear and deep insecurity.”

Knowing he risked being stripped of rank, losing money and being booted out of the Army he nevertheless met with his commanding officer to discuss his struggles and reveal his true self. "I didn't know how else to do it to keep my sanity," he said. It was the right thing to do; individual emotional distractions can affect everyone in a combat unit, sometimes with severe consequences. An investigation was launched and concluded there was “no proof of homosexuality.”  Darren was told he was “not gay.” That was an order. It was wartime; the Army needed him.

During his second tour of Iraq, he was asked to be interviewed by 60 Minutes as part of a special report about DADT. He knew the risks, but knew it was time to take a stand and help make a difference. He was the first openly out, gay soldier to be interviewed from a combat zone. The report was aired in December, 2007 and led to his eventual discharge in 2008.

After his talk in Boston Darren and I walked the Freedom Trail on a brutally cold day and talked with respect and admiration about those colonial-day rebels who risked everything to stand up against tyranny and fight for liberty and equality. We stopped to warm up at a bar and swapped war stories. I shared my own struggles of coming to terms with my sexuality and coming out. I served before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” when the unofficial policy – at least in the Marine Corps – was “anyone finds out and you’re dead.”  I was envious yet hopeful when he told me how most of his comrades in arms didn’t care. They fully accepted him. One even invited Darren and his boyfriend to her wedding. The only soldiers within the ranks still holding onto the wrongs of the past were the older ones. Times were changing, and Darren was on the front lines.  

Darren (right) and his husband Javier Lapeira
When he was warned to “turn down the flame” he instead piled on the fuel and fanned flames of change. At a Washington DC press conference he once said, “This is who I am; this is my life. It has never affected my job performance.” Once, when asked if repeal of DADT would negatively affect the military he responded: “I was an openly gay man in the Army, and the Army’s still standing.”

The Army is not only still standing, it’s stronger -- as are all branches of our military; as is our nation -- thanks, in no small part, to Darren Manzella.

This is who he was. This was his life.

On August 29, 2013, Darren died in a traffic accident in western New York. He was 36. A bright and beautiful flame has been extinguished. He left our world too soon, but he left our world a better place. 





Thursday, August 29, 2013

Grizzlies Made Me Gay

It happened on a chilly August morning in a high-mountain meadow about seven weeks into a ten-week, 1,000-mile solo backpack trip through the most remote, rugged, wild country left in the continental United States. (I had left from my front porch in Missoula, Montana, and was on my way to Waterton, Alberta, mostly off trail, crossing only three roads along the way.)

I lay safely hidden behind a downed, subalpine fir tree watching a silver-tipped sow grizzly and her two cubs about 100 yards or so upwind of me. She was lying down, resting, keeping watch of her young ones as they wrestled, rolled and chased each other in the grass. The cubs ran and pounced on their mom a few times and she nudged them away with her snout. When one cub tried to suckle her she swiftly swatted the youngster with her powerful big paw, in a seemingly effortless motion, and sent the startled cub rolling. Then she got up, walked over, and reassuringly licked the cub until all seemed well in the world.

I departed on this big, wild adventure deeply depressed and wasn’t so sure I planned to return. A few drunken nights prior I drove to a trailhead with my Remington Model 870 12-gauge shotgun planning to walk a ways into the woods and pull the trigger with barrel in mouth. Instead, I sat in my car thinking of my son, my family and my friends, sobbing so hard I was shook until I passed out. I awoke at sunrise and drove back home.

I still struggled with father’s death the fall before and my wife of 14-years demanded divorce; I had grown too damn miserable to live with. Years of accumulated shame, guilt, fear, confusion and sorrow was rumbling throughout me like thunderous dark clouds ready to let loose a dangerously potent storm. As a leader in Montana's wildlife conservation realm I was commonly praised for my straightforward honesty while secretly hiding a dishonest life. I was living a lie, suffocating beneath a deep internal avalanche, and I hated myself. Turmoil ate away at me like cancer. So naturally, as I have often done in my life, I escaped to the wilds.

When I first I retreated to the wilds of Montana fresh out of a Marine Force Recon unit I developed a particular fondness for and connection to grizzly bears. They’re beautiful, powerful, fascinating, potentially dangerous animals that are gravely maligned and misunderstood. Some people hate them and many fear them because they don’t know and understand them. They’re bears. They are what they are; they do what they do. They want to (and should be) given respect, space and left alone to live and be themselves. I’ve dedicated most of my life fighting to protect wildlife and wild places always with this thought in mind: If we save enough room for grizzlies, which need a lot of space, we pretty much keep entire watersheds and ecosystems intact that sustain an abundance and diversity of species – including us.  As Doug Seus, founder of Vital Ground (a national nonprofit focused on protecting critical grizzly habitat) succinctly puts it: “Where the grizzly walks, the earth is healthy and whole.”

Such thoughts and more buzzed through my brain as I watched that sow and her cubs in that high-mountain meadow on that chilly August morning. Then it struck me: I had spent so much time alone in the wilds because in the wilds I could truly be myself. In nature, in the wilds, there are no societal-created norms, judgments and expectations. Everything is what it is. A grizzly might judge me as a threat or feast but doesn’t care who I fall in love with and sleep with. I was fighting to defend and protect wildness, naturalness and the freedom of wild grizzlies while denying and suppressing my own wildness, naturalness and freedom. Like the grizzlies, I am what I am and do what I do. I want to (and should be) given respect, space and left alone to be myself.

I accepted myself that day while watching those magnificent and tenacious animals. In no small way, those bears helped save my life.  (I often joke with friends that grizzlies made me gay.)

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”  Wildlife and wild places preserve the truth and reality of life, death, and our primeval connection to this Earth. To deny that is to deny ourselves; to destroy it is self-destruction. To embrace, understand and accept it is to embrace, understand and accept our own innate nature and wildness.

Everything is what it is; including us. We are part of it all. We ignore that at our own peril. I learned that from wild grizzlies, in a wild high-mountain meadow, in a truly wild place.

Let's keep it wild.    

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

FACES OF HATE: Americans Behind Russia's Anti-Gay Brutality

Many of us are saddened, disturbed and angry about anti-gay laws in Russia and the related harassment, humiliation, torture and even murder commitment against gay people in Russia, often condoned and even encouraged by government. Calls to Boycott Russian Vodka and the Olympics are definitely bringing needed attention to the atrocities.

But we should also direct our attention towards the people and organizations right here in the United States who are partly responsible for anti-gay hate and violence occurring overseas. We should all do what we can to draw attention to, ask questions of and demand answers from these American citizens and organizations who praise, take credit for, support and even brag about Russia’s brutal anti-gay policies.

Here's some of those faces of hate:

Scott Lively
SCOTT LIVELY: An attorney, pastor, self-proclaimed “human rights consultant,” founder and president of Defend the Family International and the president of Abiding Truth Ministries in Springfield, Massachusetts, Scott Lively conducted a 50-city speaking tour of Russia six years ago and says current anti-gay laws reflect policies that he advocated at the time when he urged Russia to “criminalize” the public advocacy of homosexuality (a policy he has unsuccessfully advocated for in the United States as well). 

"The purpose of my visit was to bring a warning about the homosexual political movement which has done much damage to my country," Lively wrote in an open letter to Russian citizens. "This is a very fast-growing social cancer that will destroy the family foundations of your society if you do not take immediate, effective action to stop it."   

He said such actions would make Russia a “model pro-family society" and suggested that “people from the West would begin to emigrate to Russia in the same way that Russians used to emigrate to the United States and Europe.“ (Lively is also coauthor of a book called “The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party,” which claims that "homosexuals are the true inventors of Nazism and the guiding force behind many Nazi atrocities.")

Peter LaBarbera
PETER LABARBERA: Founder and president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality based in Naperville, Illinois, Peter LaBarbera  has spoken out in support of the atrocities occurring in Russia. When his organization was classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) LaBarbera said, “If you are not on the SPLC hate list, you are not doing enough.”  He frequently tries to link gay men and pedophilia together and has stated that occurrences of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among gay men are “reassuring” and “demonstrates that God sees homosexuals as an abominations.”  In regards to Russia he recently wrote: "Russians do not want to follow America's reckless and decadent promotion of gender confusion, sexual perversion, and anti-biblical ideologies to youth." 

Austin Ruse
AUSTIN RUSE: "You admire some of the things they're doing in Russia against propaganda," says Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (yes, they actually have the hypocritical audacity to use the words “human rights” in their name), which has offices in New York and Washington, D.C.  He laments the fact that such laws can’t be passed in our nation.  The institute is seeking accreditation from the United Nations (and also claims the U.N. is “risking credibility” by pushing for support of gay rights) and Ruse plans to travel to Russia this summer to meet with government officials and civic leaders. "We want to let them know they do in fact have support among American NGOs (non- governmental organizations) on social issues," he says.

Stefano Gennarini
STEFANO GENNARINI:  Also of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, Stefano Gennarini speaks favorably of Russia’s new anti-gay laws and refers to parades, rallies and protests in support of gay equality as “ludicrous and disturbing behavior on show in the squares and streets of Europe and America."  (I couldn’t find comments from him about the disturbing behavior of stalking, harassing, beating, torturing and murdering innocent gay people in the squares and streets of Europe.) Instead, he says, people in other regions, such as Africa and the Islamic world, might “look to Russia as a positive example when considering laws of their own.”



THE WORLD CONGRESS OF FAMILIES: Based in Rockford, Illinois, The World Congress of Families is planning to hold its eighth international conference at the Kremlin's Palace of Congresses in Moscow next year.  “Russia, with its historic commitment to deep spirituality and morality, can be a hope for the natural family supporters from all over the world," the organization states on its website.





I don’t advocate for violence against these people or organizations, nor deny them their Constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of religion.  But can they, should they, be held accountable in some manner?

What do you think?

Friday, August 9, 2013

GAYS, GUNS AND COFFEE: Protect Your Cappuccino and Defend Gay Rights?

On August 7, 2012, gay rights activists organized a national Starbucks Appreciation Day (later changed to National Marriage Equality Day) in recognition of the company's support for same sex-marriage and to counter the national "Chik-Fil-A Appreciation Day" also held last summer, organized by anti-gay activists (Hate Appreciation Day: A Sad Day in America).

Today, August 9, 2013, gun rights advocates organized a Starbucks Appreciation Day in recognition of the company's policy to let people carry guns into their coffee shops in states where it is legal to do so. (Some of  the gun advocates plan to bring their guns into the Starbucks in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were gunned down and murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.)

Bring your guns. Protect your coffee. Support gay rights?  

Starbucks certainly has wide appeal.

Of course, the issues aren't necessarily mutually exclusive; I'm gay, and I own guns. (Although I see no need to have a gun along to enjoy a shot of espresso.) But most gun rights activists I know are not very supportive of gay rights and equality. (The National Rifle Association (NRA) broke ties with a law firm when the firm announced their decision to not defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on behalf of Congress.)

While attending a work-related reception I once confronted a handful of NRA executives for making offensive homophobic remarks.

I was there representing a conservation organization. When they learned I was a Marine they assumed I was like them, one of the "good ole' boys," and they invited me into their conversation. They were speaking strongly against gay marriage and making crude, sophomoric jokes about it. A little while later, the conversation turned into derogatory remarks about the wildlife protection policies of former U.S. Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt who was there to give a speech later that evening.  One of the NRA guys, trying to be funny, said: "I bet Bruce Babbitt is gay."

"You think so?" I asked.

"Probably," the guy said, shrugging his shoulders and laughing. He didn't mean it as as compliment.

"I hope so," I said, "Because that is one smart, attractive older man I could definitely fall for."  (It's true. I could.)

They all looked at looked at me briefly, seemingly confused and uncomfortable, and then just silently walked away.

It often seems that people who are most vocally adamant about thinking they are patriotically defending the Constitution and the Second Amendment think that the Constitution starts off with, "We the white, male, Christian heterosexuals" instead of "We the people." They're far more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands.

But today, as they go gun tote'n off to Starbucks, I want to thank them for their support of marriage equality.

Personally, I think I'll leave my guns home and go to Butterfly Herbs.



Thursday, August 8, 2013

Is Coca-Cola Killing Gay Russians? (A Misguided Call for Boycotts)

There’s a meme rapidly spreading via social media urging people to boycott U.S. corporations that sponsor the Olympics. The meme has the logos of Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Visa and Panasonic superimposed atop brutal images of violence being carried out against gays in Russia. It makes it seem as if these corporations are directly responsible for and condone anti-gay violence. That’s a pretty serious insinuation.

It’s dead wrong.    

The Olympics should be moved and we should all boycott the Olympics if they're not moved. Calling for an Olympic boycott is helping create much-needed awareness about gay rights and equality issues and the horrific discrimination, hate, violence and murder happening in Russia. We should not be holding the Olympics at such a terrible, backwards place.  

But U.S. corporations who sponsor the Olympics support U.S. Olympic athletes and help our athletes regardless of where they compete. They are not endorsing anti-gay discrimination, hatred and violence. The International Olympic Committee doesn't endorse discrimination, hatred and violence either. But moving the Olympics out of Russia would send a strong message of world-wide intolerance towards Russia's brutal intolerance and would, indeed, hurt Russia. Boycotting those who sponsor the Olympics would accomplish neither, and to insinuate they endorse anti-gay violence as the meme clearly suggests is borderline libelous.

What’s next? Are we going to call for a boycott of any company who supplies Coca-Cola with machinery, packaging, and raw materials for its products? Should we urge folks to boycott all the businesses who supply McDonalds with beef, sugar, straws and cups? Perhaps we should boycott Canada for being the primary source of corn syrup for Coca-Cola and boycott Gavina Gourmet Coffee, Lopez Foods, Keystone Foods and 100 Circle Farms for selling supplies to McDonalds. Then we can boycott businesses who sell farming equipment, fertilizer and other products to 100 Circle Farms because the farm supports McDonalds which supports the Olympics which is planning to hold events in Russia . . .  

How far do we go?  

Boycotts are unfortunately rarely successful even against corporations directly involved in and responsible for atrocities, never mind being several layers down the chain. Quite often boycotts hurt the wrong people. Yet calls for boycotts are popular on social media sites because its easy and they spread rapidly. But they just as quickly fizzle away when another popular meme comes along. It’s easy to feel like we’re doing something by clicking “share” but we should think before we click.

Many U.S. Olympic sponsors fully support and help fight for gay rights and equality. Coca-Cola consistently earns the highest score -- 100 percent -- from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)'s "Corporate Equality Index" and McDonald's consistently scores a commendable 85 percent. In fact, many U.S. anti-gay hate groups urge people to boycott these corporations because they score so highly with HRC. 

Five years ago a hate group called the American Family Association launched a boycott against McDonalds because the fast-food chain joined and donated money to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and placed an executive on the group's board of directors. McDonalds did the right thing and stood its ground. "Hatred has no place in our culture," McDonald's Spokesman Bill Whitman said. "That includes McDonalds, and we stand by and support our people to live and work in a society free of discrimination and harassment." 

Now we want to boycott McDonalds because they sponsor U.S. Olympic athletes who might go to Russia?  

Boycotting sponsors of the Olympics will accomplish nothing to help the situation in Russia. It could, however, hurt our U.S. Olympic athletes and, ironically, gay rights and equality efforts.  

If we really want to make a difference, let’s work to expose and spread more awareness about the U.S.-based anti-gay hate organizations and individuals who are exporting discrimination, violence and murder to places like Russia.  Learn more about them here:  "The Exportation of Hate: Should U.S. Citizens and Organizations be Held Accountable for Spreading Anti-Gay Discrimination, Hatred and Violence Abroad?"  

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Exportation of Hate: Should U.S. Citizens and Organizations be Accountable for Spreading Anti-Gay Discrimination, Violence and Murder Abroad?

Like many Americans, particularly us gay Americans, I have watched a few of the videos circulating around the internet showing Neo Nazis in Russia brutally tricking, stalking, harassing, bullying, torturing and humiliating gay teens. I was especially disturbed and angered by a photo showing two smug, militant-looking guys posing proudly next to a humiliated young man they apparently just tortured as if they were hunters standing beside their trophy.

Russian Gay activists report a dramatic increase in violence against gays these past few weeks by people motivated and inspired by anti-gay words, attitudes and policies. Not only has Russian President Vladimir Putin spoken harshly against gays and supported anti-gay laws, but Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, referred to same sex couples as a “sign of the Apocalypse.” Such potent words and policies can provoke horrific actions. A few weeks ago a 23-year old gay man was murdered in Volgograd. Beer bottles were stuffed up his anus, his penis was cut off and his head was smashed in by a rock.

As Neal Broverman points out in a recent OpEd for the Advocate, “Russian Gays Aren’t the Only LGBTs Suffering” (July 31, 2013), similar atrocities are happening elsewhere in the world. He tells of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s call for the “decapitation” of gays. A gay activist in Cameroon was recently brutally tortured and killed. In Nigeria, where being gay is already illegal, a law is being considered that would imprison people for 14 years if caught in a same sex relationship.     

It’s infuriating and frustrating to read about and watch the horrifying human rights violations being carried out against innocent people in lands so far away, simply because of who they are and genetically wired to be, and yet feel so helpless knowing that there’s not a whole lot we can do.

Ironically, I harbor regrets about policies I was naively part of while serving as a young U.S. Marine during the height of the so-called “cold war” when Russia was deemed the “Evil Empire” by then President Reagan. We were geared up for war for all the wrong reasons. Now the Marine in me wishes we could send well-trained troops in to protect innocent lives; I’d be the first to volunteer. But I also know violent responses to violence usually just fuels more violence. Anger-induced revenge fantasies accomplish nothing.   

But what to do?

Many of us do what we can and at least help increase awareness. Calls to Boycott Russian Vodka and the Olympics are, if nothing else, definitely bringing needed attention to the atrocities occurring in Russia. But we Americans cannot really expect to have much direct influence on foreign politics and policies, right?

At least that’s what I thought. A U.S. citizen named Scott Lively claims otherwise.   

An attorney, pastor, self-proclaimed “human rights consultant,” founder and president of Defend the Family International and the president of Abiding Truth Ministries in Springfield, Massachusetts, Lively conducted a 50-city speaking tour of Russia six years ago and says current anti-gay laws reflect policies that he advocated at the time when he urged Russia to “criminalize” the public advocacy of homosexuality (a policy he has unsuccessfully advocated for in the United States as well). 

"The purpose of my visit was to bring a warning about the homosexual political movement which has done much damage to my country," Lively wrote in an open letter to Russian citizens. "This is a very fast-growing social cancer that will destroy the family foundations of your society if you do not take immediate, effective action to stop it."   

He said such actions would make Russia a “model pro-family society" and suggested that “people from the West would begin to emigrate to Russia in the same way that Russians used to emigrate to the United States and Europe.“ (Lively is also coauthor of a book called “The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party,” which claims that "homosexuals are the true inventors of Nazism and the guiding force behind many Nazi atrocities.")

Lively’s not the only U.S. citizen fueling the flames of discrimination, intolerance, hate and violence against gays in Russia and elsewhere.

Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality based in Naperville, Illinois, wrote: "Russians do not want to follow America's reckless and decadent promotion of gender confusion, sexual perversion, and anti-biblical ideologies to youth."

The World Congress of Families based in Rockford, Illinois, is planning to hold its eighth international conference at the Kremlin's Palace of Congresses in Moscow next year.  “Russia, with its historic commitment to deep spirituality and morality, can be a hope for the natural family supporters from all over the world," the organization states on its website.

"You admire some of the things they're doing in Russia against propaganda," says Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (yes, they actually have the hypocritical audacity to use the words “human rights” in their name), which has offices in New York and Washington, D.C.  He laments the fact that such laws can’t be passed in our nation.  The institute is seeking accreditation from the United Nations (and also claims the U.N. is “risking credibility” by pushing for support of gay rights) and Ruse plans to travel to Russia this summer to meet with government officials and civic leaders. "We want to let them know they do in fact have support among American NGOs (non- governmental organizations) on social issues," he says.

Stefano Gennarini
Stefano Gennarini, also of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, speaks favorably of Russia’s new anti-gay laws and refers to parades, rallies and protests in support of gay equality as “ludicrous and disturbing behavior on show in the squares and streets of Europe and America."  (I couldn’t find comments from him about the disturbing behavior of stalking, harassing, beating, torturing and murdering innocent gay people in the squares and streets of Europe.) Instead, he says, people in other regions, such as Africa and the Islamic world, might “look to Russia as a positive example when considering laws of their own.”

How do these so-called Christians sleep at night? Are they oblivious to, or in denial about, or perhaps actually satisfied with the discrimination, intolerance, hate, violence and suffering to which their words and actions contribute? Do they truly believe that the Christ they worship – the Christ who, from my understanding, advocated for peace, love, non-judgment, tolerance and acceptance – would be pleased with them? 

I would never advocate for violence against these people, nor deny them their Constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of religion.  But can they, should they, be held accountable in some manner?

President Obama has said he would make gay rights a part of his foreign policy and Secretary of State John Kerry says "We just have to keep standing up for tolerance and for diversity."  Perhaps I’m just too angry and frustrated, and I know I’m treading on tricky ground: But when U.S. citizens and organizations travel to foreign countries and help promote and incite intolerance, discrimination, bigotry, hate and violence are they violating any U.S. Laws? Can they legally work against our own nation’s stated interests and foreign policy? Aren’t these people “aiding and abetting the enemy?” Can their actions be considered traitorous? Shouldn’t it be illegal to export anti-gay discrimination, intolerance, hate and violence from the United States?

 Austin Ruse
Scott Lively has already been sued in U.S. federal court by a Uganda-based gay-rights group accusing him of promoting and influencing laws that persecute gays in that country – earlier versions of which called for the death penalty in some cases. Lively is working to have the case dismissed.  Perhaps this is more of my anger-induced revenge fantasies – But I hope the case is not dismissed.  I hope he loses a significant amount of money and credibility. I hope more and similar lawsuits are filed against him and others.  I so badly want these people held accountable for the suffering for which they are partly responsible. Can they at least be denied their nonprofit, tax-exempt status?

In addition to boycotting vodka and the Olympics we should do everything and anything we can to help draw attention to and create awareness about the appalling, horrific consequences of the words and actions of people such as Scott Lively, Peter LaBarbera, Austin Ruse and Stefano Gennarini and the organizations they work for – people and organizations right here in our own country.    

If nothing else, I want them to tell us how they feel -- I want to see and hear their reactions; I want to see the looks on their faces and hear their thoughts -- if or when they watch the videos circulating around the internet showing Neo Nazis in Russia brutally tricking, stalking, harassing, bullying, torturing and humiliating gay teens; look at the photo showing two smug, militant-looking guys posing proudly next to a humiliated young man they apparently just tortured as if they were hunters standing beside their trophy, and hear about a 23-year old gay man being murdered, having beer bottles shoved up his anus, his penis cut off and getting  his head smashed in by a rock.

Just Because he was gay.

Does their Christ approve?  

Rick Perry's BS on BSA: When Did Discrimination, Inequality and Hate Become American Values?

Texas Governor Rick Perry with Boy Scouts and Scout leaders
On February 2, while speaking to hundreds of Boys Scouts gathered in the Texas State House of Representatives as part of the Scout’s annual report to the state, Governor Rick Perry urged the Boy Scouts of America to stick to its policy of banning gays. “Remain loyal to your beliefs,” Perry said. “Without such values, morality becomes an abstract concept.”

In other words: Accepting gays would be immoral and erode the organization’s values? 

“Scouting is about teaching a substantial amount of life’s lessons,” Perry said. “Sexuality is not one of them. It never has been and doesn’t need to be . . . to have popular culture impact 100 years of their standards is inappropriate." Perry, an Eagle Scout, also told the Scouts that his own experience in Scouting was a key reason he joined the U.S. Air Force and later sought public office, and that society's failure to adhere to the organization's core values was a cause for high rates of teen pregnancy and wayward youth who grow up to be “men joining their fathers in prison."
Perry’s recent remarks are consistent with his 2008 book "On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts Are Worth Fighting For,” in which he wrote, "Because gay activism is central to their lives, it would unavoidably be a topic of conversation within a Scout troop. This would distract from the mission of Scouting: character building, not sex education.”

Actually, being honest with and accepting oneself, accepting others, embracing diversity and fighting for causes one believes in not only builds good character, but is perfectly consistent with traditional American Values and the mission of Scouting.
Like many, Perry confuses sexuality with sex, and apparently doesn’t think accepting oneself and others should be part of life’s lessons. Considering he is an Eagle Scout, he also shows a surprising lack of knowledge about the values taught and learned in Scouting; as a governor and recent presidential candidate, he shows an alarming disregard for traditional American values. Over the past 100 years or so, the Boys Scouts have certainly been influenced by modern, “popular culture” as can be seen in the creation of Merit Badges such as Automotive Maintenance, Aviation, Cinematography, Computers and Nuclear Science. But I wonder if Rick Perry ever earned his Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the Nation, Citizenship in the World, American Cultures or American Heritage Merit Badges? If he did, he apparently forgot the lessons.

I share a few things in common with Rick Perry: Not only am I an Eagle Scout, but my experience in Scouting was a key reason I joined the U.S. Marine Corps and later dedicated my life to important causes I believe in.
Scouting had a huge and positive influence on my life, instilling in me a love for wildlife and wild places and even shaping my chosen life-long career in the wildlife conservation profession. It also instilled in me concepts of service to country and others and notions of honesty and integrity – to a point. Unfortunately I was not comfortable accepting and being all of my true self. I was brought up believing that to be physically and emotionally attracted to the same sex was a sickness and made me an immoral freak. As a result, I tried hard to be something I was not. Because of societal pressures, norms and expectations – which were perpetuated by the Boy Scouts -- I chose to be “straight.” (That didn’t go so well for me, for those of you who think sexuality is a choice).

The negative individual and societal consequences of being fearful to accept, embrace and be oneself, and to not accept differences in others, are serious and run deep. It results in self hatred, self judgment, shame and guilt. It results in bigotry, hatred, bullying and violence. It results in a lack of freedom and equality for all. It results in tragedies like gay teens being far more likely to drop out of school and commit suicide than others.
And it results in influential people like Governor Rick Perry standing in front of hundreds of young men and telling them that people like me are immoral and destroy their values; that acceptance of oneself and others is not part of life; and that discrimination, bigotry, bias, inequality and hate are traditional American values.

How many of those hundreds of Boys Scouts sitting in front of Rick Perry will be negatively influenced by his ignorant words?
When I was growing up, I was taught basic, core American values of inalienable rights, freedom and equality for all. Our nation hasn’t always lived up to the ideals, but such traditional values have continued to evolve and improve in America; I hope people like Rick Perry and organization’s like the Boy Scouts of America can catch up and keep up.

Of course, there always have been gay Boys Scouts and gay Scout leaders, we just had to hide, suppress or deny a huge part of our identity. Out of fear and hate, we lived lives of lies. Dishonesty is not a value I should have learned while earning the rank of Eagle Scout.
Scouting has been slow to catch up to the rest of our society, even the Marine Corps, but I am very glad they seem to finally be headed in the right direction. The good, positive changes finally occurring will result in healthier individuals and a healthier society.

I hope Boy Scouts and their leaders are smart enough to not listen to Governor Rick Perry.  Discrimination, inequality and hate are not American values -- and they're certainly not attitudes or traits a real scout would embrace.

Note: A version of this essay was published in the Advocate on February 25, 2013

Are We Gays Really Hated and Denied Rights?

February 1, 2013

I recently had an interesting exchange on Facebook with a guy named Patrick who is a friend of a friend. Following some statements I made related to ongoing efforts to deny and rescind rights for gay Americans, and the bias, bigotry and hate so often and commonly directed towards gays, Patrick asked:

“What rights are gays being denied? Tell me who has denied you any said rights. Let's get to the bottom of this and report him, her or them as needed. Seriously, I'd like to know what rights you've been denied and by whom. And where. . . and when!”

It surprised me a bit, as I had assumed most people are aware of the issues. So I responded:
“If you are not familiar with the bigotry, bias and hatred historically (and still currently) directed towards gays, the implications and negative consequences it has had on individuals and society, and past and ongoing efforts to deny and rescind rights and equality for gay Americans (including marriage equality; work place equality; immigration equality; military service, and many others) I suggest you Google it and learn. I'm not sure where you have been? Better yet, give me a call and I'd be more than happy to fill you in: 510-495-4445. Thanks.”
His response:
“I'm familiar with a lot of things including all the bigotry, bias and hatred committed against the Saxons by the Normans in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. But that's all now passé. And I don't see any of it occurring against gays here in Los Angeles where I live. If it's occurring where you live or personally against you then tell us. It's a simple enough question. No need to deflect answering it by providing an unnecessary history lesson or hinting disparagement against the person who asked it. If injustice is being committed against you, let us know what it is. And let's see what we can do to correct it. Hmm?”
Again, I was surprised. Here is a person fully aware of bigotry, bias and hatred directed toward a group of people 800 to 1,000 years ago, but apparently unaware of the bigotry, bias and hate regularly directed against gays today. I was not attempting to disparage him, nor deflect his question, but was trying to answer the best I could. I felt that since he was -- by his own admission -- unaware of the issues and asking me about it, a hint of historical context might be helpful. But mostly I focused on the denial of rights that still exist today, in our modern supposedly more enlightened times.
The exchange made me realize that we all have different interests, and not everyone is aware of the bigotry, bias and hate directed towards gays, and efforts to deny and rescind rights, equality and freedom for gays in the United States. I appreciate and respect Patrick’s willingness and desire to learn and his generous offer to help and get involved. We can use all the support we can get.
For others of you who may not be aware, here is a summary:
All in all, more than 1,400 basic rights are denied to gay people in the United States on a federal level, and even more in various states, including not being allowed to marry (and denied all the other rights and privileges that go with marriage); not being allowed to adopt; not being allowed immigration or residency rights; not granted the same protections under the law for employment and employer rights; no protection against blatant, open discrimination by national organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America. The current policy platform of the Republican Party, as adopted last year at their convention, clearly and strongly opposes gay marriage and calls for the denial of other rights, freedom and equality to gay Americans. Just recently, members of the Republican Party in the Congress voted to spend $3 million of taxpayer’s money to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is an unconstitutional act that denies many Americans like me the same rights, freedom and equality that other Americans enjoy.
When I joined the Marine Corps and served eight years in a special ops unit called Force Recon, I had to lie, as legally I was not allowed to serve in the Marine Corps. I was a top-notch Marine, very highly decorated, and so it wasn’t my lack of skills or knowledge that kept me from being legally allowed to serve, but the fact I am gay. I was denied the same rights, freedoms and equality that other Americans and my fellow Marines were allowed. It was tough. Fortunately, things have since improved in the military (thanks to the leadership of our current President) -- but there is still a long way to go for gay Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen to receive the same rights, freedom and equality as other service members.
Bigotry, bias and hatred against gays remains prevalent throughout our nation, and is very common among conservative Republicans, particularly in the Tea Party. Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, the Family Research Council, James Dobson, Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church, many Christians and Christian churches, and numerous other individuals and organizations constantly refer to gays as “abhorrent,” “unnatural,” “abominations,” “freaks,” and put a lot of time, money and effort to deny and rescind rights, freedom and equality for gay Americans like me.
Several years ago, I was stopped for speeding in rural Virginia. After the cop saw work-related gay rights literature on my front seat, he repeatedly called me a “faggot,” arrested me and put me in jail for a night, where other cops repeatedly called me a "faggot" and even hit me and roughed me up a bit. It was frustratingly difficult to bring attention and justice to the incident and during the ensuing case I brought against the cops several locals wrote letters to the editor praising the cops for their actions, happy to see them trying to "keep gays out" of their county. Of course, there’s no doubt many gays live there, but I imagine most of them must live fearful, closeted lives of lies and deceit (as I did for many years) because of the way they are treated and perceived.
The negative individual and societal consequences of people being fearful to accept, embrace and be themselves are serious and run deep. It results in self hatred, self judgment, shame and guilt. It results in bigotry, hatred, bullying and violence. It results in a lack of freedom and equality for all. Just missing out on the fundamental emotional and psychological growth that most people are openly able and even encouraged to experience – such as first crushes, first dates, first relationships, first sexual experiences, first love, first heartbreaks –can and does result in a form of arrested development (something that still effects me and my behavior even today).
We’ve come a long way but have a long way to go: According to the U.S. government, hate crimes rose 13% in 2010, and there is an annual average of 191,000 hate crimes each year with 18% of those committed against gays and lesbians. And since we gays and lesbians make up a small percentage of our population, crimes against us are six times higher than the overall rate. Young people are affected, perhaps more so. Nine out of 10 gay and lesbian teens report being bullied because of their sexual orientation. Gay teens are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than other teens, five times more likely to miss school out of fear, and 28% do, indeed, drop out. Last year an 18-year old Texas man was slain by a classmate for being gay, and a 24-year old Florida lesbian was killed by her girlfriend’s father. Much of this, no doubt, derives from groups that continue to perpetuate lies, misinformation, distortions, bias, bigotry and hate against gays.
My exchange with Patrick made me realize that perhaps we need to do a better job of helping friends, family and others become more aware of the bias, bigotry and hate directed towards gay Americans, and the ongoing efforts to deny rights, freedom and equality for gay Americans. By doing so, we can help create more understanding and support in the fight for equality.
I certainly hope it doesn’t take 800-1,000 years for people to become familiar with issues I had wrongly assumed were common knowledge.
If, like Patrick, you’d like to learn more and get involved, please check out and consider supporting the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) or other gay rights organizations.
Thanks.

Are You Straight-Acting?

When I first came out of the closet, I would sometimes say things like: "I am gay, but I played football and I was a Marine!" -- as if that would make things more acceptable and make me feel more manly. In other words, I was a "straight-acting gay."  Now I realize how sadly silly such a statement is, and obviously based on deep insecurities and ridiculous stereotypes. But such internalized homophobia is a common ailment among we gays brought up in a heterosexually-dominated society full of absurd myths and misconceptions about "masculinity" and "manhood."

In fact, I think "straight-acting" straights are just as insecure as "straight-acting" gays and, for that matter, "gay-acting" gays -- "acting" being the key word here.

What the hell is "straight-acting?" I suppose, since I spent much of my life in various insecure stages of denial, suppression, hiding, self-judgment and self hatred -- and acting out the stereotypes, myths and misconceptions of being "straight" -- I was at one time indeed "straight-acting." Personally, I believe my performance was worthy of an Oscar.

Now, when I see gay men state that they are "straight-acting" on places like the "men seeking men" (m4m) posts on Craigslist, or on ManHunt, I sometimes write them and ask: "If you were 'straight-acting' wouldn't you be posting in the 'men seeking woman' (m4w) section or on WomanHunt?" When people tell me, or ask me if I am "straight-acting" I generally respond: "I am emotionally and physically attracted to men. I fall in love with men. I have sex with men. That seems pretty 'gay-acting' to me."

I was recently chatting with a young guy online (I know, big shocker to those of you who know me, right?) and I told him about a date I was going on with an intelligent, cute, fun guy. He asked me if my date was a "straight-acting" guy or "effeminate." Considering that the guy was going on a romantic date with me, who also happens to be a guy, with the potential for it to lead to a possible relationship and sex, it seemed like a strange question. I explained to my young online friend why I think asking if a gay man is "straight-acting" seems strange and funny, to which he responded, "But what else would you call it?"

Good question. What would, or should, we call it? Perhaps we don't have to call it anything -- perhaps we could just accept that we humans come in a wonderfully interesting and diverse array of personalities, traits, behaviors and ways in which we innately desire and crave to experience and express love and sex. I know plenty of gay guys who are strong athletes and I know plenty of straight guys who are pretty good at interior decorating. Some may say they are "straight-acting" gays and "gay-acting" straights -- but the thing is, they're not acting!

It's time to drop the stereotypes, drop the labels, drop the myths and misconceptions of manhood, and start embracing and accepting people, all people, for who and what we are -- starting with and including (and perhaps most importantly) ourselves!

I'm done acting straight, and I'm done acting gay -- I just want to be me, a goofy guy who happens to be emotionally and physically attracted to men. Yes, I know, sounds pretty gay, hey? And indeed it is!

Note: A version of this essay was published in the Advocate on January 4, 2013

Letting Go: A Letter to the Ex

November 14, 2012

Erik,

I never thought I would say this, but I want to thank you for cutting me out of your life for good and finally putting an end to the insanely tumultuous years we spent together. I still think about you way too often, and sometimes I drive myself crazy attempting to understand and figure out just what our relationship was about, and if it had any meaning or purpose at all. I need to let it all go; I’m working on it.

Although we certainly had some nice, good times together, mostly all I remember is drinking, doing drugs, fighting and fucking. Mostly fighting.

My life has greatly improved without you, and I sincerely hope yours has improved as well. As I’ve often told you: I do think you are a strikingly handsome guy, and unusually intelligent in many regards; those are the traits that initially drew me towards you and kept me with you for so long.  You have an amazing side to you, a lot of good qualities and you have a lot of potential if you don’t throw it all away on drugs, alcohol, self-hate and anger. I hope you someday face and deal with your demons; I’m currently facing and dealing with mine. 

I’m not blaming you for everything. I certainly played a role in all of our misery and fights and we often reacted to each other in ways that accelerated our anger, sadness and unhappiness until it spun out of control. We hurt each other a lot. Simply put: We obviously were not good for each other. Part of me wants to just accept that, move on and wish you well.  Unfortunately, I have difficulty with that because a large part of me remains bitter and angry at the way you treated me, my son and my friends.

Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you have a brutally cold, cruel, vicious side to you.  You constantly picked at me in the places I had the most shame and guilt in my life and I allowed you to make me feel like the “murderer,” "killer," “liar,” “useless piece of shit” “pathetic loser” you accused me of being.  I now understand that such abusive attacks deeply took hold within me because I had my own, similar self-judgments and shame and believed you were right. You fed those self-doubts and self-judgments and helped them grow to a point where I began truly hating myself, yet I stuck with you because you also comforted me at times and I believed I loved you (and believed you loved me).  I think now that we were just addicted to each other, and both of us are addicted to alcohol, drugs and intensity – It obviously made for a pretty dangerous, potent, volatile mix.
  
I think I can eventually forgive you for what you did to me, since I allowed you to do it; but I am not sure I can ever forgive you for how impatient and cruel you often were to my son -- a wonderful, beautiful young child with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. I fear I will always maintain some guilt, shame and self-judgment for having let you talk to and treat my son the way you did. He would sometimes cry and beg me to leave you and stay away from you. He’s a smart boy, and I should have listened to him. But I don’t need to forgive you; I need to forgive myself.  Fortunately, Cory has forgiven me.   

Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and do it all differently. You had no right to judge me. The first time you talked to and treated my son the way you often did I should have thrown you out of my house and out of my life forever. The first time you talked to and treated me the way you often did I should have thrown you out of my house and out of my life forever. Ah, see . . . more guilt, shame and regrets. . . regrets upon regrets -- that’s the unfortunate impact I let you have on me. 

A friend once told me to never regret having tried to love someone; but I regret you. 

As you well know, when we met I was still struggling with an identity crisis, still coming to terms with coming out and being gay, and trying to figure out just who I really was. I was still in a place where I had too much guilt, shame, sorrow and regrets from my past. I was vulnerable to your verbal abuse and cruelty. At some level, I think you knew that and enjoyed the power you had over me. Perhaps it’s something I needed to experience to grow into a better person – like a wildfire that seems devastating at the time but makes a forest healthier in the long run. Who knows? I obviously still think about it entirely too much.

I’m not sure why I am writing you all this. I know you well enough to know that you will dismiss everything I have written, and likely berate me for what I have written -- if you even bother to read it at all.  I guess a part of me wants you to know how your cruelty affected me and others in the small hope you will examine yourself, get help and become a better person.  And why do I even give a shit? I don’t know. I am not sure. I guess a part of me still cares about you and hopes you will turn out okay and achieve your dreams and contribute something useful to the world.  I wish I could just forget about you entirely and delete you from my memory.

I’m working on it.

Dave

Do Ask, Do Tell: We're All the Stronger For It

September 21, 2012

"As Commander in Chief, I’ve seen that our national security has been strengthened because we are no longer denied the skills and talents of those patriotic Americans who happen to be gay or lesbian. The ability of service members to be open and honest about their families and the people they love honors the integrity of the individuals who serve, strengthens the institutions they serve, and is one of the many reasons why our military remains the finest in the world." – President Barrack Obama, September 20, 2012

A year ago today we took a giant leap forward in living up to our nation's ideals of freedom and equality for all by repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute, allowing all Americans the opportunity to serve more honorably, honestly and openly in our military – and be treated more fairly and equally while they’re at it.  

Simply put: People now have the freedom to freely be who they are while defending our freedom.

Certainly, there's more work to be done. Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and executive director of  the Servicemember's Legal Defense Network (the organization that led the battle for repeal and continues to fight for equality) sums it up nicely: 

“We cannot forget - even as we celebrate this day - that there is still work to be done in order to reach full equality in the military. Even now, families of gay and lesbian service members, veterans, are treated as second-class citizens, unable to receive the same recognition, support, and benefits as the families of their straight, married counterparts. We must repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and all federal laws that prevent the military from providing the same support for all service members and their families. We cannot have two classes of service members." 

Still, today's a day to rejoice -- we've undeniably come a long way in a relatively short time.  

President Obama signs the repeal, September 20, 2011
I joined the Marine Corps in 1981, before the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute was implemented. Back then the unofficial policy (at least in the Marine Corps) was more along the lines of “anyone finds out and you’re dead.”   

Although the Marine Corps emphasizes traits such as honesty and integrity, I was forced to lie in order to enlist and serve – signing a statement assuring the government that I was not a “homosexual,” and had never engaged in, nor had any desire to engage in, “homosexual activities.”

This, despite the fact that our nation’s military, and our nation itself, owes its very beginnings, in large part, to a “homosexual” -- Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben.

A Prussian military officer, von Steuben distinguished himself in the Seven Years War and served under Frederick the Great. But he was discharged in 1763 and fled to France, where, years later, he met Benjamin Franklin, who urged George Washington to recruit von Steuben to train rebellious farmers into a proficient, disciplined enough force to take on the British. And so he did. Arriving to the colonies in 1777, he began training troops at Valley Forge in the winter of 1778. He did a pretty good job: von Steuben is widely considered the second-most-indispensable hero of the American Revolution after Washington.

A statue of von Steuben in Washington, DC
I learned all that in Marine Corps boot camp.

What I didn't learn until years later is this: von Steuben was gay.

Most biographies of Steuben cautiously state that his homosexuality is "speculative." But here's a bit of evidence: He was discharged from the Prussian army and fled Germany because he was accused of "indiscretions" with "several young men;" He arrived in America with a "handsome" 17-year old Frenchman he was unusually close to; He became the protégé of Pierre L'Enfant (another gay man who George Washington hired to design our nation's Capitol city); He settled in New York (a gay-friendly city even then) and hung out in gay "social sets;" He died a bachelor in 1794 and left all his property to two men he was very close to. 

Sounds pretty gay to me.

Yet, out of justified fear for my life, I had to spend my Marine Corps days lying about, denying and hiding who I really was, and pretending to be something I was not – as have hundreds of thousands of brave men and women who have served our nation from its beginnings. Tragically, thousands have been court-martialed, imprisoned, or dishonorably discharged for being gay. Some were even killed over it.

On October 27, 1992, U.S. Petty Officer Allen R. Shindler, Jr. was brutally murdered by fellow servicemen because it was discovered that he was gay. It became a huge issue during the 1992 presidential campaign and, after being elected to office, President Bill Clinton did what he could under the political realities of the time to push forth change. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute was enacted on December 21, 1993. Despite good intentions, the policy resulted in unrelenting “witch hunts” and invasions of privacy to root out gay service members who were then dishonorably discharged when discovered. More than 1,300 men and women were discharged during the 18-years of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and countless others (like me) had to continue lying, hiding and denying, as did the people they loved and wanted to share their lives with.   

Why?  Because many people wrongly argued that openly out gay service members would have negative impacts on military morale and unit cohesion, and reduce the effectiveness of our military. Some people, such as former Marine Corps Commandant James T. Conway, called homosexuality “immoral.”  

It was a long, hard battle, but on September 20, 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act, one of the greatest civil rights achievements of our time.


Thus far (as all sensible people knew would be the case) there has been no negative impact on military moral and unit cohesion. To the contrary, as President Obama so eloquently points out, allowing all qualified, valuable and skilled volunteers to serve in our military (and allowing servicemembers the freedom and equality to be more honest and true to themselves and others while striving to protect and defend our freedom) makes our military, and our nation, all the better and stronger!

In the Congressional Cemetery, on the gravestone of Vietnam veteran Leonard P. Matlovich --  a recipient of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star who was dishonorable discharged from the U.S. Air Force for being gay – is this inscription:  "When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."



Let’s hope that no patriotic, courageous servicemember is ever again discharged in the land of the free, home of the brave, because of who they love.