Tag Archives: LGBT rights

Social Justice and Presidential Medal of Freedom Honorees

12 Aug

2013PresMedFreedomSocJusThis year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Presidential Medal of Freedom  Awards, established by President John F. Kennedy.   For me, this year is particularly impressive because it is also the 50th anniversary of the Freedom March, which was organized by one of my personal heroes, Bayard Rustin, who has been celebrated several times on this blog.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.  While I am not going to address all 16 recipients, I would like to take some time to recognize a handful that I consider Heroes of the World.

Bayard Rustin: I am sad this is a posthumous award, but he so deserves to be celebrated and acknowledged.  Not enough people know that it was Bayard Rustin, close confidante to Dr. King, who worked with King on techniques for nonviolent resistance.  Rustin was an openly gay black man working tirelessly for civil rights.  I cannot fully articulate my admiration for this man.  Of course at the time he was working with Dr. King, it was illegal just to be homosexual.  Some believe that Rustin’s effectiveness was compromised because he was openly gay.  Unfortunately, Rustin started to worry that his integral part in the civil rights movement would undermine the efficacy of the movement and thus offered to step aside.  King supported Rustin’s move to step aside.  As much as I respect and honor Dr. King, I wish he would have shown more support for Rustin.  Let us not forget that it was Rustin that organized the March on Washington.

Sally Ride: Sadly this is also a posthumous award. The world lost a shining light last year when Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died from pancreatic cancer. She was only 61. She received a bachelor’s degree in English and physics from Stanford and went on to get a PhD in physics, studying astrophysics and free electron laser physics. She responded to a newspaper ad recruiting for the space program and became one of the first women in the program in 1978.

She became an integral part of the space shuttle program and in 1983 became America’s first woman and, at 32, the youngest American in space. Over her NASA career she logged over 340 hours in space. She was the recipient of numerous awards including the National Space Society’s von Braun award. She retired from NASA in 1987 but remained active in education and science. She taught physics at UC San Diego and was director of the California Space Institute. Ride’s most powerful legacy is Sally Ride Science, the program she launched in 2001. The mission of the organization is to

make a difference in girls’ lives, and in society’s perceptions of their roles in technical fields. Our school programs, classroom materials, and teacher trainings bring science to life to show kids that science is creative, collaborative, fascinating, and fun.

Sally Ride also wrote a number of science education books.  I am exceedingly grateful that I had the opportunity to have met Sally Ride.

Gloria Steinem: I have to say that Gloria Steinem is one of the reasons why I wanted to become a social worker.  Steinem is an icon of social justice for women, the LGBT community,  the disenfranchised and all marginalized and targeted populations. Steinem has dedicated her life to creating a level playing field for women, while at the same time embracing and working on issues for all marginalized peoples. In my humble opinion, Seinem’s voice is one of the most important in the 20th and 21st Centuries. My first reading of Revolution From Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, spoke to me as a gay man and how institutionalized oppression can take its toll and how we must unite to speak our own truth. As most of you know, Steinem co-founded Ms. Magazine and helped a culture learn about the power of words: Miss, Mrs. and Ms. I have heard Ms. Steinem speak three times and each time I left in awe and inspired. I don’t understand any of her detractors, for she speaks with such love and compassion. Listening to Steinem, one realized how fully she understands deep rooted patriarchy, misogyny, and oppression. I dare say, her detractors have never heard her speak, nor have ever read anything she has written. Yes, she supports a woman’s right to govern her own body–a controversy that would not exist if there were legislation trying to control what men could do with their bodies. I applaud Gloria Steinem for her courage and for her contributions to social justice, she encourages and inspires us all to understand more about the intersections of oppression.

Besides these personal heroes, three other honorees are particularly notable for their roles in social justice.
  • Oprah Winfrey has used her power and wealth to work hard for women’s rights and education; she is also a champion of the LGBT community. The fact that one of the most powerful, wealthy and recognizable people in the world is a woman of color is of great value in itself.  She is still creating an amazing legacy!
  • Sen. Daniel Inouye also receives a posthumous medal. He served nearly 50 years in Congress, elected when Hawaii became a state; he was the first Japanese American to serve in either chamber. During his long service he was a tireless champion of human rights, supporting civil rights for all including the LGBT community.
  • Patricia Wald is a well-respected appellate judge and a pioneer. She was one of the first women to graduate from Yale Law School. She was also the first woman appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where she later served as Chief Judge.  She also served on the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague and currently works for the Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

It is truly wonderful to see such champions of social justice receive this great honor.


Happy Birthday, Joan Baez

9 Jan

Today is folk music and social justice pioneer Joan Baez’ 72nd birthday. Born on Staten Island to a Mexican Catholic and a Scots Anglican, Baez was heavily influenced by the pacifist messages delivered when the family converted to Quakerism. She demonstrated her musical talent early on, and began performing in the late 50s. Fluent in English and Spanish, she has recorded in both (as well as six other languages).

After moving to New York City in 1960, she began performing more protest-based music along with her other folk repertoire. She soon met a young Bob Dylan and recorded a number of his songs. The two regularly performed together and developed a strong shared commitment to social justice. They both performed at the 1963 March on Washington. Baez also performed at Woodstock, viewing the festival as a statement against government oppression.

Throughout her career, Baez has been an outspoken proponent of social justice. A strong feminist, she is also a staunch defender of LGBT rights. She regularly performs benefits to relieve poverty and homelessness–sounds like a great social worker to me!. The overview of her involvement looks like a directory of social causes, and she is energetic for each one. She isn’t slowing down, either. Despite her distate for political partisanship, she recognized the true dangers of the GOP platform and endoresed her first major candidate with Barack Obama. She also participated actively in the Occupy protests, singing to raise money to support the cause.

In March of last year, Amnesty International created the Joan Baez Award for Outstanding Inspirational Service in the Global Fight for Human Rights. At the launching celebration, she was presented with the first award in recognition of her human rights work with Amnesty International and beyond, and the inspiration she has given activists around the world. In future years, the award is to be presented to an artist – music, film, sculpture, paint or other medium – who has similarly helped advance human rights. What a powerful and fitting legacy for this tireless worker for rights for all.

Bigot of the Week Award: November 11, The Spectre of DADT

11 Nov

This Week's Bigot's Victims

Even with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell going into full effect, LGBT members of the military face continued pain and oppression. As the nation celebrates Veterans Day, it is worth noting the irony that one segment of the population that served to defend our nation is still subject to second class treatment. TSM questions the value of war and military intervention as the solution to problems. That being said, the military is a major employer and its treatment of its past and present employees has a long way to go.

The end of DADT changed the military’s policy, but much work is needed to change its culture. As Leonardo Lucio, a Navy reservist and NoH8 activist, recounts, even though he can serve openly, he is regularly subjected to gay taunts and slurs by his fellow service members. Veterans who were given dishonorable discharges in the days even before DADT are not eligible for benefits, regardless of how well they served their country, often solely because of who they are. (Kudos to Richard Pan of the California Assembly who is trying to ensure that this practice is overturned at least as far as state benefits!) Even when benefits are available, veterans can be subject to horrible abuse. Esther Garatie, 28, a former Marine lance corporal who lives in Dallas, sought treatment for depression at her local VA hospital; she was subjected to a tirade by the nurse, who told her she was depressed because of her “lifestyle of sin.”  Sadly, thousands of stories like these exist.

LGBT service members and veterans are the employees and retirees of our government. They deserve freedom from discrimination as much as any of the rest of us. Lifting the irrational ban on service was a positive step. We won’t be able to truly acknowledge their service, however, until the climate in which they serve can be purged of antiquated, hateful attitudes and behaviors.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 19, George Takei

19 Jun

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Geroge Takei.  TSM followers will remember that we celebrated Takei’s heroism in November when he recorded a stern Public Service Announcement that resulted in a bigoted school board member resigning. Known to many for his roles as Lt. Sulu on Star Trek and Capt. Nim on The Green Berets, Takei has been quietly active in gay causes since the 70s and has become much more visibly active since his coming out in 2005.

Takei’s sexual orientation and long-term relationship with partner Brad Altman were open secrets among the Hollywood community and Star Trek fan base. Shortly after coming out in Frontiers magazine, he said,

It’s not really coming out, which suggests opening a door and stepping through. It’s more like a long, long walk through what began as a narrow corridor that starts to widen… [LGBT people] are masculine, we are feminine, we are caring, we are abusive. We are just like straight people, in terms of our outward appearance and our behavior. The only difference is that we are oriented to people of our own gender.

Takei has taken a number of very public stands, including recording public service announcements opposing the Kobe-esque rants of former NBA star Tim Hardaway and the despicable former Arkansas school board member Clint McCance. He and Altman have worked hard to raise the visibility of gay couples by appearing as the first-ever same-sex couple on a celebrity episode of the Newlywed Game (which they won) and appearing on a number of other shows.

The couple are also marriage pioneers. They were the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license in West Hollywood.They were married on September 14, 2008 at the Democracy Forum of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, of which Takei is one of the founders. Married before the passage of Prop 8, which both men have actively opposed, their marriage stands in California law.

George Takei deserves our thanks for being a visible, active, Asian-American gay man and for regularly mixing seriousness and humor to support gay rights. To learn more about his great work for gay rights and civil rights for Japanese Americans, click here.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 18, Alice B. Toklas

18 Jun

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Alice B. Toklas.  TSM followers will remember that we celebrated Toklas’ birthday back in April. Toklas deserves to be celebrated for having the courage to live her life openly as a lesbian.  In 1907, Toklas became an expatriate and moved to Paris.  She and her life-long partner, Gertrude Stein, were together for close to 40 years until Stein’s death.

The Toklas/Steins played host to many artists and literati of the time.  Their famous Salons would include such greats as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne,  Sherwood Anderson, and the very closeted Thornton Wilder who was having an affair with the writer/pornographer Sam Steward, also a friend and frequent guest of Toklas (Secret Historian, Justin Spring).

Toklas consistently encouraged people to live their lives honestly  and to be their best.  She seems to have been quite the optimist, despite having lived in France during the Nazi occupation.  Toklas published a memoir, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook.   Perhaps the most famous recipe in the cookbook/autobiography was ”Haschich Fudge,” a mixture of fruit, nuts, spices, and marijuana, often served at her Salons.  I thank Toklas for her courage, wisdom, and her support of many rather famous LGBT people struggling with their own journeys of coming out.

Kudos to the U.S. Labor Department

30 Apr

Kudos to the Department of Labor

Yesterday, April 29, 2011, the U.S. Labor Department announced it would finally extend equal protection under gender identity. This move on behalf of the Labor Department is no small thing.  Adding the category of Gender Identity as a protected population that is now illegal to discriminate against is huge; this sends a message to employers and to housing that it is now against the law to discriminate against a person due to their gender identity.  This protection is particularly helpful for our transgendered brothers and sisters. Rea Carey, the Executive Director of the task force said:

With this change, the federal government is doing what smart employers in the private sector have been doing for years. They know that in order to attract the best talent they need to show that diversity is important to their companies. We are grateful for the leadership of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis on this issue and look forward to our continuing work with the administration to ensure greater fairness in federal policy.

My hope is that now the Federal Government will take the lead in preventing discrimination, as it should take the lead!  Brava, to Rea Carey. Click here to see the full story.

Women’s History: April 30

30 Apr

Happy Birthday, Alice B. Toklas

Happy Birthday, Alice B. Toklas.  Toklas grew up in California and Washington but then became an expatriate and started her life in Paris, France.  Toklas met her future life partner, Gertrude Stein, in Paris. Together, the women would set up a Salon, almost a type of artists colony, attracting such literary giants as Thornton Wilder and Sherwood Anderson (Winesburg Ohio being one of my favorite collection of short stories). The Salon became famous for what would become known as avant garde masters such as, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Paul Cezanne.

While Toklas’ partner is knows as the writer of the family, Toklas, too, was a writer.  Toklas and Stein were together for almost 40 years until Stein’s death. After Toklas lost Stein, she published a memoir, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook.   Perhaps the most famous recipe in the cookbook/autobiography was “Haschich Fudge,” a mixture of fruit, nuts, spices, and marijuana.

Although Toklas was born a Jew, she later converted to Catholicism.  Upon her death, she was buried next to Stein.

Ellen Calls Our Bigot Sally…

29 Apr

Go Ellen

Thanks to my friend who likes to be known as the “voice of the trailer,” for sharing this video of the Ellen Show just after I posted TSM’s Bigot of the Week Award today.  Not only does our poor Sally Kern not have any black friends, but she has not a gay friend to be found either. When not wearing her KKK outfit, Kern is serving as a Republican Senator in Oklahoma, where she takes history lessons from Michele Bachmann.  Click here to see the video of Ellen trying to call Sally Kern.  While there are so many disturbing things about the video, what really concerns me is the absolute LIES Kern reports as facts.  How on earth did she become an elected official. Again I ask, is not the role of elected officials to protect the citizens?

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