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“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for December, 2011

Judge in Golinski asks uncomfortable questions for those who favor discrimination

Timothy Kincaid

December 16th, 2011

Today Justice Jeffrey White heard testimony as to whether the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was in violation of the US Constitution when it was applied to deny spousal benefits to Karen Golinski, a legally married federal employee. In advance, White, a George W. Bush appointee, provided a list of questions that he wanted addressed. It can’t have been a happy day for Paul Clement when he saw them.

The list of ten questions began with:

1. The passage of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) marks a unique departure from the recognition the federal government historically has afforded to State marital status determinations.

It quickly trotted on to such inquiries as “What is the authority for the position that only the right to opposite-sex marriage is fundamental as opposed to the right to marriage generally?” and “How does BLAG distinguish the line of authority treating classifications based on religious affiliation as a suspect class from classifications based on sexual orientation?” and “How does BLAG’s argument about the tradition of heterosexual marriage differ from the miscegenation context?”

And surely when he came to number 9 Clementi must have cringed:

9. To the extent the Court decides the issues presented on the motion for summary judgment…

This does not mean that White will rule in Golinski’s favor or that the ruling will apply broadly should he do so. But it does suggest that White has no concerns about the arguments made by Golinski’s counsel but is finding the arguments presented by DOMA’s defense to rely on assumptions that White was not willing to make.

Adding sway to Golincki’s case, the head of the civil division of the Department of Justice showed up to argue in her behalf. This is but the second time that Assistant Attorney General Tony West has personally appeared in court to represent the Government and his appearance signaled the significance with which the Obama Administration has begun to take the issue of marriage equality.

Of course one can never tell how a judge will make their determination. But, at this point, things look encouraging.

Gov’t Repudiates Frank Kameny’s 1957 Firing, Apologizes

Jim Burroway

June 25th, 2009
OPM Director John Berry and Frank Kameny at yesterday's ceremony. (Office of Personnel Management)

OPM Director John Berry and Frank Kameny at yesterday’s ceremony (Office of Personnel Management)

In 1957, Frank Kameny was fired from his job as an astronomer at the Army Map Service when his supervisors found out he was gay. He protested to the U.S. Civil Service Commission and argued his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which denied his claim. That experience turned Kameny from an anonymous government employee to one of the most tireless activists of the LGBT movement.

No Longer ‘Unsuitable for Federal Employment’ (Laura McGinnis, Renna Communications)

No Longer ‘Unsuitable for Federal Employment’ (Laura McGinnis, Renna Communications)

Yesterday, more than fifty years after his firing, Frank was on hand at a special ceremony to receive a formal letter of apology from John Berry, the openly gay Director of the Office of Personnel Management. Kameny was also bestowed the Teddy Roosevelt Award, the department’s highest honor. Upon receiving the apology, Frank Kameny tearfully replied, “Apology accepted.”

We often think of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York as being the start of the Gay Rights movement, but that assumption ignores the bold, aggressive action by Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, Del Martin and Phylis Lyon, along with other pre-stonewall landmark events like the Black Cat Raid and the White House pickets. Frank Kameny was right in the middle of many of those bold initiatives in demanding equality for gay people when relatively few gay people themselves believed they deserved equality. Remember, this was a time when the medical profession regarded homosexuality as a mental illness.

Frank would have none of that. He co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., which in 1963 launched a long campaign to overturn sodomy laws and remove homosexuality from the American Psychological Association’s list of mental disorders. He participated in the very first picket line in front of the White House on April 17, 1965. Along with other activists from New York they expanded those pickets to include the Pentagon, the U.S. Civil Service Commission, and, more famously, to Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia pickets would become an annual event for the next five years.

Gay Is GoodIn 1968, Kameny coined the phrase “Gay Is Good,” basing it on the slogan “Black Is Beautiful.” It was a bold and radical gesture for many gays and lesbians who hadn’t before dared to believe that about themselves. While Frank points to that phrase’s popularity as his most proud accomplishment, it wasn’t his last. He became the first openly gay candidate for Congress in 1971 (he lost), and he played a pivotal role in the APA’s removal of homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1973 (he won).

Yesterday, Frank’s life of advocacy completed its full circle with the apology and recognition from the Office of Personnel Management, the successor department to the U.S. Civil Service Commission which upheld his firing. In Joyce Murdoch and Deb Price’s book, Courting Justice: Gay Men And Lesbians V. The Supreme Court, Frank called his 1957 firing the spark which energized his long dedication to securing equality for all LGBT people:

“I just couldn’t walk away,” recalled Frank Kameny, a brilliant Harvard-educated astronomer who became nearly destitute after being fired from his government job in 1957. The phrase echoed through many interviews with gay people who fought against dreadful odds after losing a job, being embarrassed by a “sex crime” arrest or suffering some similar humiliation. “For the rest of my life, I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself,” Kameny added. “I would be dead of stomach ulcers by now. There’s simply a burning sense of justice.”

Frank Kameny is 82, and is still active in Washington, D.C. where he makes his home. His home, by the way, was designated as a D.C. Historic Landmark by the District of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Review Board in honor of his activism. His papers are now in the Library of Congress, and a collection of original picket signs, a “Gay is Good” button, and other memorabilia are a part of the Smithsonion’s collection.

Click here to read the OPM’s letter of apology

President Obama Signs the Presidential Memorandum on Federal Benefits

Jim Burroway

June 17th, 2009
YouTube Preview Image

By the way, the older gentleman who President Obama handed the pen to is longtime gay activist Frank Kameny. Frank became an activist when he was fired by the Army Map service in 1957 when his superiors learned that he was gay. Frank quickly became a no-holds barred activist, participating in the very first picket line in front of the White House in 1965. He coined the phrase “Gay Is Good” in 1968. To many gays and lesbians who hadn’t before dared to believe that about themselves, that phrase was a bold and radical gesture. The impact of those three simple words is incalculable. Today, Frank points to that simple act as his most proud accomplishment.

But his accomplishments didn’t end there. He became the first openly gay candidate for Congress in 1971 (he lost), and he played a pivotal role in the APA’s removal of homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1973 (he won). Franks papers are now a part of the Smithsonian’s collection, and his home in Washington was designated as a D.C. Historic Landmark by the District of Columbia’s Historic Preservation Review Board in honor of his activism.

Whatever criticisms we all have about Obama’s timidity in LGBT rights as well as the grievous injury stemming from his Justice Department’s DOMA brief, it is good to pause and savor this moment for one important hero. The man who was fired by the federal government because he was gay is now a witness to a president signing a memorandum addressing limited benefits for gay employees.

History sometimes takes a very long time. And it’s not even close to being over yet.

Click here for the official transcript of President Obama’s remarks

Transcript of Obama’s Signing Ceremony for Federal “Benefits”

Timothy Kincaid

June 17th, 2009

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT THE SIGNING OF A PRESIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM REGARDING FEDERAL BENEFITS AND NON-DISCRIMINATION

Oval Office 6:04 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Well, today I’m proud to issue a presidential memorandum that paves the way for long-overdue progress in our nation’s pursuit of equality.

Many of our government’s hard-working, dedicated, and patriotic public servants have long been denied basic rights that their colleagues enjoy for one simple reason — the people that they love are of the same sex.

Currently, for example, LGBT federal employees can’t always use sick leave to care for their domestic partners or their partners’ children. Their partners aren’t covered under long-term care insurance. Partners of American Foreign Service officers abroad aren’t treated the same way when it comes to the use of medical facilities or visitation rights in case of an emergency.

These are just some of the wrongs that we intend to right today.

In consultation with Secretary of State Clinton, as well as OPM Director John Berry, my administration has completed a long and thorough review to identify a number of areas where we can extend federal benefits to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service and executive branch government employees.

I’m requesting that Secretary Clinton and Director Berry do so where possible under existing law — and that the heads of all executive departments and agencies conduct reviews to determine where they may do the same.

Hundreds of Fortune 500 companies already offer such benefits not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because they recognize that it helps them compete for and retain the best possible talent — and we need top talent serving their country right now more than ever.

Now, under current law, we cannot provide same-sex couples with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.

That’s why I’m proud to announce my support for the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act, crucial legislation that will guarantee these rights for all federal employees.

I want to thank Representative Tammy Baldwin, who is behind me somewhere — there she is, right there — for her tireless leadership on this bill and in the broader struggle for equality. I want to thank Senator Joe Lieberman — Joe is here — as well as Susan Collins for championing this bill in the Senate; and Representative Barney Frank for his leadership on this and so many other issues — in fact, this is his second trip to the White House today. (Laughter.)

It’s a day that marks a historic step towards the changes we seek, but I think we all have to acknowledge this is only one step. Among the steps we have not yet taken is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. I believe it’s discriminatory, I think it interferes with states’ rights, and we will work with Congress to overturn it.

We’ve got more work to do to ensure that government treats all its citizens equally; to fight injustice and intolerance in all its forms; and to bring about that more perfect union. I’m committed to these efforts, and I pledge to work tirelessly on behalf of these issues in the months and years to come.

Thank you very much everybody, and with that I am going to sign this executive order.

(The memorandum is signed.)

(Applause.)

END 6:08 P.M. EDT

Is anyone rushing now to buy their Democratic Party fundraiser ticket?

About Those “New” Federal Benefits for Gay Employees…

Jim Burroway

June 17th, 2009

…They’re not so new. I already noted that the announced benefits pertaining to the foreign service had already been announced last month. John Aravosis confirmed that the rest aren’t new either:

I just asked OPM Director John Berry, on a White House media conference call, whether in fact federal agencies already have the right to give these benefits to gay employees. The answer, “yes.” So what’s new about tonight? Obama is going to “tell” the agencies to give the benefits — as if any agency in the Obama administration would dare tell a gay employee no to a request for time off to attend their partner’s funeral?

Need any more confirmation that all Obama wanted to do was salvage the DNC fundraiser?

The Long Arc of History

Jim Burroway

April 4th, 2009
John Berry

John Berry

John Berry, an openly gay man, was confirmed yesterday as director of U.S. Office of Personnel Management. This is the federal agency which sets personnel and hiring policies for the U.S. government. Jonathan Rauch notes the historical significance of this momentous occasion:

..in November of 1971, the federal personnel office wrote this letter to Frank Kameny, the pioneering gay-rights activist (still going strong, btw), in response to Kameny’s protest of the firing of a gay federal employee:

The activities of sodomy, fellatio, anal intercourse, mutual masturbation, and homosexual caressing and rubbing of bodies together to obtain sexual excitement or climax are considered to be acts of sexual perversions and to be acts of immoral conduct, which, under present mores of our society, are regarded as scandalous, disgraceful, and abhorrent to the overwhelming majority of people. …

Individuals who engage in acts of sex perversion and other homosexual acts…are not regarded with respect by the overwhelming majority of people. Indeed, some of the most extreme epithets of contempt and vituperation are popularly applied to persons who engage in such activities…

The letter goes on, and on, in that vein (the first page is here).

That same office as of yesterday is now headed by a gay man.

Frank Kameny

Frank Kameny

Kerry Eleveld at The Advocate phoned Kameny (he will be 84 in May) to discuss his long life of advocacy for LGBT rights, including several pioneering protests in front of the White House, Pentagon, State Department and Civil Service Commission. Kameny became involved when he was fired from the Army Map Service in 1957. Eleveld asked Kameny what he thought about Berry being named to head the OPM:

“I remember seeing his name somewhere,” Kameny said of the news, “but I don’t know terribly much about him.”

I said I wasn’t so much interested in his estimation of Berry as I was in the fact that a gay man might be heading the organization.

Silence weighted the other end of the line as I realized Mr. Kameny hadn’t fully grasped the news.

“Oh, oh my…” he said as it settled in. “For the first time in this whole conversation, this is really registering on me. Oh, my…now I am impressed!” he said with a hint of glee in his voice. “Macy must be turning over in his grave,” he added, referencing John W. Macy Jr., his archrival who chaired the commission in the ‘60s.

Update: John Berry has invited Frank Kameny to be present for his swearing in.