Part Five: The Girl

October 27, 2010

By Huong Nguyen

Year: 1995

Oh. My. God! The girl, she’s in my bed. How did this happen?

~~~

I first met her several months ago in 1994. We worked in the same dormitory— I, a resident assistant, she, a program assistant. She was shy and quiet, at least around me. I paid little attention to her, because we didn’t work directly together. Until one day, she rocked my world, literally.

She made an announcement at our weekly dormitory staff meeting. “Hi, everyone. We’re having a rally tomorrow to ask the university to address its non-discrimination policy and the presence of ROTC on campus, since ROTC doesn’t allow LGBT students to participate. So, please come out to support us and help end the ban on gays in the military.”

Holy crap! She’s leading the charge to kick ROTC off campus? All this time, why didn’t she tell me? Why didn’t anyone tell me? We all worked together for heaven’s sake. The staff knew I was in ROTC. It’s hard to miss, since I was constantly in uniform, even at these meetings. They also knew I wasn’t homophobic, either. How could I have been? Like, a third of the staff was queer.

This was eff’ing rich. We’re supposed to support all students on campus. Yet, when it came to ROTC students, screw them. Screw them all for the sake of equality. Screw me. And kids like me, who desperately needed this opportunity. And, who were willing to stand on the wall, to make the ultimate sacrifice, so y’all can have this right to protest —to screw us. The gratitude, it’s overwhelming. Of course, I told a much tamer version of my thoughts to the swarming TV reporters covering the anti-military rallies on campus. The ones led by the girl.

Several weeks after the announcement, I was going to wash my clothes one night. When I entered the laundry room, I saw the girl—and no one else.  “Just my luck,” I thought. She looked up and smiled at me. I responded with a weak smile and proceeded to load my clothes into the washing machine. “Are you doing anything fun this weekend?” she asked. I truly didn’t want to talk to her, but she was so disarming. And I didn’t wanna be impolite. To my surprise, we chatted for a long time about many things, except the pink elephant in the room.

What intrigued me, in a disconcerting way, was that she immediately saw through my exterior. The one I had cultivated for so long to protect myself. The badass, take-no-prisoner, I-can-kick-anyone’s-ass-with-my-pinky-or-die-trying persona. Of course, that was me. But she also saw my core— the lonely, abandoned 6-year-old who was looking for a home. No one had been able to do that before.

~~~

“Gotta go. I’m late to drill with my unit,” I tell the girl.

Immediately upon arriving, a captain slips a form under my nose. He explains, “The law is now called ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ The military can’t ask you whether you’re homosexual anymore, because being homosexual is not illegal. But signing this form ensures that you know that you still can’t commit homosexual conduct.” My panic only subsides when I realize that everyone is being asked to sign the same thing.

The new law is brilliant, I thought. I know I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. But if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, isn’t it an eff’ing duck? How can you say that you have nothing against ducks, and at the same time ban all animals that look, act, and sound like ducks? What a pile of highbrow sophistry. In other words, cow dung.

But I have a more immediate problem: the girl.

Read Part One: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way, Part Two: Light Bulb, Part Three: A New Identity, and Part Four: The Education of Private Nguyen of Huong Nguyen’s diary blog series.


New GLSEN Project to Improve Climate for LGBT Students in Elementary and High School Sports

October 27, 2010

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) announced on October 25, 2010 that Dr. Pat Griffin, former Director of It Takes A Team! Education Campaign for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Issues in Sport at the Women’s Sports Foundation, has joined GLSEN to develop and direct a program to address LGBT issues in youth and high school sports. The GLSEN Sports Project, which will launch in 2011, will help elementary schools and high schools create and maintain athletic and physical education climates that are based on the core principals of respect, safety, and equal access for all students and coaches regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and/or expression.

Statement by NCLR Sports Project Director Helen Carroll:

“This is a great opportunity for collaborative work in advocacy and education between the NCLR Sports Project and the GLSEN Sports Project. With Pat Griffin directing the GLSEN Sports Project to lead the way for high schools and NCLR’s Sports Project covering the legal landscape, I see a brighter future for our LGBT student athletes and their leaders.”

Griffin and Carroll recently authored On the Team: Equal Opportunity for Transgender Student Athletes. The report is the first ever to thoroughly address the complete integration of transgender student athletes within high school and collegiate athletic programs.


NCLR Applauds Florida Officials’ Decision Not to Appeal Adoption Ban Ruling

October 22, 2010

Today Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum announced that he would not appeal last month’s ruling by the Third District Court of Appeal striking down Florida’s anti-gay adoption ban as unconstitutional. Florida Governor Charlie Crist and the state’s Department of Children and Families had already announced that they would not appeal the ruling. The ruling will become final after today, and will be binding on courts across the state.

A statement from NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“It is truly heartening that Florida’s elected leaders have stepped up to the plate and finally agreed to put this offensive law to rest once and for all. We are thrilled that the Florida Department of Children and Families will never again have to waste its time rooting out ‘homosexual’ and bisexual people who apply to become adoptive parents—instead, it can now focus on making sure that children who desperately need homes can find the very best loving, devoted parents to adopt them. This is a great day for the state of Florida and for LGBT families everywhere.”


Part Four: The Education of Private Nguyen

October 21, 2010

By Huong Nguyen

Year: 1994

“Gaydar? What’s that?”

They smile knowingly, my dormitory co-workers. “The camos and boots are part of my job. Look, I have long curly hair. I wear makeup, dresses, high heels. And, I’m engaged to marry a dude.” Now giggling, they claim gaydar is more than that—it detects an aura, a quality. I throw up my hands sarcastically, “Yup, that explains it all.”

We had just spent the entire afternoon learning about gay culture. The purpose of the class was to help clueless resident assistants, like me, recognize students who were coming out and support them through that process. Fine, glad to sit and listen. But it has no relevance to me, personally.

Or does it?

~~~

Strange things have happened the past couple years, though I haven’t tried to make sense of them. Deep thinking and processing of emotions would only weigh me down, distract me from my goals. That philosophy has worked wonderfully so far. Why change it now? Gotta just keep movin.’

Darn! My head is now spinning, trying to make connections. Like, last weekend. One of my male ROTC cadets and I were out at a club. This girl made a beeline toward us, while we were at the bar. I smiled at my friend, nudging him with my elbow and teasing him about what’s going to happen. She approached us, turned to me, and asked me to dance instead of him. “Me?” Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw my friend, laughing his butt off. Not to be impolite, I hesitantly accepted, but also grabbed my friend as a life raft on the dance floor with us.

And another time, during basic combat training, at an M-60 firing range. Most of us were sitting on bleachers, waiting for our turn, each wearing two long, heavy ammunition belts draped our shoulders. To pass the time, I chatted with this girl, while playing with one of the belts. The conversation started out friendly, but then she got surprisingly—ummm, what’s the right word? Flirtatious? Could you even use that word to describe something between two girls? Reacting nervously to the turn in conversation, I somehow hurt my hand on a belt. She quickly grabbed my hurt hand, held it between her hands, and began massaging it. Confused, I pulled my hand from hers, babbled some incoherent excuse, and walked away.

Strangest of all, though, was the time I was called into my unit commander’s office at the evacuation hospital where I was stationed. “Oh, crap,” I thought, “what did I do?” The commander, a lieutenant colonel—a man in his late forties, extremely well groomed, with a gentleness in his tone and manner unlike any other male soldier I knew— smiled, offered me a seat, and began some small talk. Welcoming me to the unit, apologizing that he hadn’t done so months before, asking whether I was enjoying myself. Something was terribly askew. He was an officer, and I was one of several hundred enlisted low-level grunts under his command. No one in his position should personally care about how I felt.

And then, a twilight-zone moment— he began gently grilling me about what the troops thought of him. This went on for about 10 minutes, until, finally satisfied that I knew nothing, he allowed me to leave. Once outside, I sat down on a bench and melted into a puddle of confusion. Why was he so abnormally concerned about what people thought about him? And why was he so trusting of what I thought?

~~~

Wait a minute. Have all these people’s gaydar-thing-a-ma-gigs been going off on me?

Read Part One: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way, Part Two: Light Bulb, and Part Three: A New Identity of Huong Nguyen’s diary blog series.


Part Three: A New Identity

October 14, 2010

By Huong Nguyen

Year: 1994

How lucky am I? A little over two years ago, I was up a creek without a paddle. No money for school, no way to get out of town, no escape from my family dysfunction. Today, I’m living my American dream. The one I’ve been yearning for since leaving Vietnam for the land of opportunity. Of course, it’s not the rags-to-riches-Hollywood-movie kind. Or an awe-inspiring-Nobel-Peace-Prize kind. My dream is modest, like most. But the best part is that it’s entirely mine. Imagine a refugee of the American War becoming a soldier in the greatest military in the world. My American dream fulfilled — all because I joined the military. And that’s not hyperbole. At first, I joined to pay for school — now, I’m staying for entirely different reasons.

~~~

Days after high school graduation in 1992, I was on my way to Fort Lost in the Woods—also known as Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri—for basic combat training. A plane, a bus, and the world as I knew it all but disappeared.

The process by which civilians are turned into soldiers is called soldierization. The beginning stages involve pushing the body to submission, while simultaneously expelling all notion of individuality from the mind. Thereafter, the body heals stronger, and the mind is taught to prioritize nation, mission, and unit over self. It’s amazing how people—the vast majority of whom are impressionable young adults—can be pushed, pulled, and molded into fighting machines in such a short period of time, isolated from family and friends.

About a month into training, the process was nearly complete, at least for me. I was sitting with my fellow soldiers, waiting for hand grenade instruction to begin. A drill sergeant sauntered over, reached for a grenade, pulled out the pin, and tossed it on the ground in front of us. Without a thought, I threw myself on top of it. Breath held, eyes shut tight, body taut, adrenaline coursing through my veins— waiting.

Several seconds later, I realized it wasn’t going to explode and got off the ground, slowly. I looked down at my hands, shaking, and thought, “I did the right thing.”

By graduation, I had found my identity. All the scattered pieces of my former self coalesced into a new being, with a new way of living. I was no longer alone. I belonged to a community. I had a sense of purpose, a new ethos. The ceremony aptly ended with a song by Lee Greenwood, which made the entire class weep like babies.

“I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free,
And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me,
And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today,
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land—God Bless the U.S.A.”

~~~

Now, in 1994, that feels like a lifetime ago. Life is good now. I’m engaged to a military brat I met at Advanced Individual Training in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. In addition to drilling with my Army National Guard unit as a combat medic one weekend a month, I’m also enrolled in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps program and receiving scholarship funds from them to pay for tuition. I pay for room and board with a job as a resident assistant. And I have a plan for the next 20 years—attend medical school, become a military doctor, retire with full pension, open a medical clinic serving the poor, and maybe adopt a kid or three along the way.

Hello world, I’m a comin’, and (cue Hammer) “U Can’t Touch This!”

Read Part One: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way and Part Two: Light Bulb of Huong Nguyen’s diary blog series.


Teaching Our Kids Not to Hate

October 13, 2010

The past few weeks have been shameful for those who abuse religion to justify their anti-gay bigotry, and devastating for our community and families that lost sons and daughters to suicide. We now face a moral challenge that we must meet.

In these past weeks, I have felt powerless to stop the rising toll. Just months into the school year, at least 10 teenagers committed suicide rather than continue to face the pain of daily harassment and the shame of being made to feel they were “wrong” or “immoral.” We know that for every one of these young people, there are countless more who suffer in schools and classrooms every day.

In the wake of these tragic deaths and in an appalling act of grown-up bullying, several anti-gay figures, including Mormon Apostle Boyd K. Packer and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, spit on the fresh graves of these young people. Spewing hate-filled rhetoric, baseless lies, junk science, and half-truths about our lives, they justified their screeds by invoking their religious beliefs.

Packer, in remarks televised as part of the Mormon General Conference, said that same-sex “tendencies” were “impure and unnatural,” and suggested that God would not make us this way. Perkins, in a column riddled with lies and discredited research (shame on The Washington Post for publishing such trash), argued that the bullies must not have been regular churchgoers because true Christians would not engage in such acts. He went on to blithely attack the integrity of our lives and the health of our relationships, and in a classic “blame the victim” deflection claimed that we are hurt not by anti-gay violence, intolerance, and harassment, but rather by simply being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. So much for living a “Christ-like” life.

These men are simply bigger bullies, and quite devoid of human decency. They spinelessly dodge the blame that belongs at their feet for trafficking in stereotypes about our lives, and for eagerly and ceaselessly supplying excuses and ideological cover for discrimination and hatred. We must hold them accountable for the damage they cause to LGBT youth with their bigotry masquerading as religious belief.

The deaths of these young people have galvanized our community and a range of allies. There has been an outpouring of support for many of the families and for other young people who may likewise be suffering, and a renewed push for accountability to address the epidemic of bullying and harassment. We must keep up the pressure. We must make sure there is lasting reform. We must reach the parents of kids who are both victims and perpetrators of bullying and forge a permanent end to this corrosive cycle. And perhaps most importantly, by speaking up and being out, as LGBT people or as allies, we must help foster a culture of greater inclusion, compassion and understanding.

In my school community, we have taken our first steps. My 14-year-old son Julian and some of his friends wanted to find a way to get a supportive word out to other kids, who may not be as lucky as they are to live in a community where difference is not feared. The result is our own It Gets Better/We are Making it Better video.

These kids are the same age as many who took their lives. That is a sobering reality. But fortunately, unlike those who exploit these tragic deaths to further their own anti-gay agendas, the kids in this video are the future. They are our future leaders. That should give us, and every kid out there, hope.

We still have much to do, and some of our most profound victories lie ahead. But we must have the faith of those who know our full humanity is worth fighting for. We will win equality. And we will win a day when anti-gay bigotry and dehumanizing statements about us and our lives are universally condemned as damaging, wrong, and utterly unacceptable. The teenagers we fight for – Asher, Tyler, Billy, Raymond, Seth, Aiyisha, Felix, Zach, Cody, and Chloe – should be fighting with us. They, more than most, earned the right to see that day. They were robbed of that moment. Our commitment must be to do all we can to ensure that they will be hate’s final victims.

Sincerely,

For additional resources on helping to stop bullying and information on suicide prevention efforts for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth, please visit:

The Trevor Project
GLSEN
Gay-Straight Alliance Network
Groundspark’s Respect for All Project films
Family Acceptance Project
Make It Better Project
Welcoming Schools


FAQ: DHHS Requires Hospitals to Grant Equal Visitation Rights to All Families

October 7, 2010

At NCLR, we’re committed to fighting for your rights, and keeping you informed of all the legal decisions and key policies that impact your lives, as well as the lives of your family and friends.

You may have noticed that our legal team over the past few months has busily been providing you with comprehensive analysis of important legal developments, breaking down and interpreting complicated issues for you, and, in the process, answering your questions about how the issues affect your lives.We couldn’t do any of our work without your support.

This week, we’re explaining how you and your loved ones are affected by new federal regulations that would require nearly all hospitals to grant equal visitation rights to all types of families, not just those based on marriage or biology.

Check our homepage and become a fan of our Facebook page to receive all your updates.

In solidarity,

Kate Kendell
Executive Director

________________________________________
DHHS Requires Hospitals to Grant Equal Visitation Rights to All Families

On April 15, President Barack Obama issued a memo directing the Department of Health and Human Services to adopt new regulations that would require nearly all hospitals to grant equal visitation rights to all families, not just those based on marriage or biology. In the memo, President Obama specifically talked about same-sex couples as an example of family members who have been unfairly kept away from their partners when one is hospitalized. The President also said that he was taking this step in part because of what happened to Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond, who were kept apart by a Florida hospital after Pond collapsed due to an aneurysm in February 2007. Pond died without her partner or their children being permitted to visit her.

What did President Obama’s April 15th Hospital Visitation Memo say and what does it mean?

On April 15, 2010, President Obama sent a memo to the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The memo told HHS to create new regulations about hospital visitation policies for all hospitals that get federal money.

The new regulations the President asked HHS to write would require hospitals to allow patients to decide who can visit them and who has the legal power to make medical decisions for a patient if the patient is unable to.

Did President Obama talk about LGBT people in the Hospital Visitation Memo?

Yes. The President’s memo said he wanted to protect LGBT patients and their families “who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives—unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated.”

Why is this issue important to the LGBT community?

Anyone who is in the hospital deserves to be visited by friends and loved ones and to have a trusted person make decisions for them if they are too ill or unconscious.

But in most states, the law will automatically give the power to make your medical decisions to a biological or legal relative, such as a parent or a sibling. Even if you are married or in a civil union or domestic partnership, you may be hospitalized in a state that does not legally honor your relationship. Many hospitals will also prevent your friends and loved ones from visiting you except for legal relatives.
The law often does not recognize the relationships that LGBT patients have to their partner, spouse, friends, and loved ones. The proposed regulations would require hospitals receiving federal funds to let patients choose their own visitors and medical decision-makers. When these new regulations become law, they will provide significant protections to LGBT patients.

Are the new regulations in effect?

Not yet. Before any new regulations can go into effect, the government has to publish a draft and allow the public to comment.

As President Obama directed, HHS issued draft regulations on June 25th, 2010. The public had 60 days—until August 27, 2010—to comment on these regulations. Now, HHS will review the comments submitted, make changes based on the comments, and publish the final regulations by November.

The final regulations will likely go into effect on January 1, 2011.

What is NCLR doing to make sure LGBT people are protected by these regulations?

NCLR submitted comments asking HHS to expand the regulations to protect LGBT patients who are too ill or unconscious to choose their visitors or decision-makers. When a patient is unable to choose, we urged HHS to automatically give visitation rights to any person who plays a significant role in the life of a patient, including same-sex partners, families of choice, and close friends.

In addition, if a patient is incapacitated and does not have documents specifically naming a medical decision-maker, we urged HHS to require hospitals to give medical decision-making authority to the person who is most familiar with the wishes of the patient, regardless of whether their relationship would be recognized by the law.

Through our coalition work, NCLR also helped write a joint letter to HHS (pdf) from 53 national, state and local organizations.
What does all of this mean right now for the rights of LGBT patients and families?

Right now, the new regulations are not yet in effect. That means there is still a big risk that the rights of LGBT patients and families can be violated at hospitals throughout the country.

What can I do now to protect myself and my family?

There are two things you can do right now: 1) a hospital visitation authorization form, and 2) a health care directive or durable power of attorney for health care.

• Hospital visitation authorization: This form tells the hospital that you want a particular person to be able to visit you. If you end up in a hospital, you want to be sure that you can see the people you love—whether that is your partner, a close friend, or chosen family member.

• Health care directive or durable power of attorney for health care: This form lets you say who you want to make decisions for you if you can’t. Even if you are married or in a registered domestic partnership or civil union, your relationship may not be respected without this form. Also, with this form you can choose someone other than your spouse or partner to make medical decisions for you, if you wish.

For more information on other ways to protect your family, please take a look at NCLR’s publication Lifelines (pdf).

download this FAQ (pdf)

download our previous FAQ, “What the Ninth Circuit’s Latest Ruling in the Prop 8 Case Means” (pdf)


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