The Repeal: No One Left Behind

December 19, 2010

By Huong Nguyen

Saturday, December 18, 2010. It’s 8:30 a.m., and I am still in bed. I hear footsteps hurriedly coming up the stairs. My bedroom door slams open, and a big mass lands on my body. Thromp! I open one eye and see my earnest 5-year-old son, Rowan, staring intently down at me. He whispers, “Mommy, wake up, they are voting to move the bill.

~~~

It’s only been three hours since I succumbed to sleep. I was keeping a vigil. I had a crazy idea that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would happen if I could just continue to send out good energy to the universe. I have been completely distracted since Thursday when Senator Harry Reid announced—only a week after the Senate failed to move the bill forward as part of the Defense Authorization Act—that he would bring the stand-alone repeal of the bill to a vote today.

On Thursday, as news came that the stand-alone repeal, a bipartisan effort by Senators Joseph Lieberman and Susan Collins, would likely garner sufficient votes to break Senator John McCain’s filibuster, I had a mixture of feelings. Half of me thought, “Tamp down your hopes. You’ll need to conserve strength to weather another failure and continue to fight.” The other half replied, “Throw your fears to the wind. We’ve never been this close. It will happen. Just believe that people will do the right thing.” And when I fell asleep early Saturday, I dared to believe.

~~~

After rousing me, Rowan rushes back downstairs. I groggily make my way to the living room, where I find my wife Alison, Rowan, and my other son Theryn, age 8, glued to C-SPAN. Alison sees me and begins to cry. For the next 15 minutes, our family watches the vote to break the filibuster unfold. Sixty-three votes. Filibuster broken. And with the final “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal vote in three hours now certain, our family breaks out in cheers and tears. A little more justice, compassion, and love entered the world.

___________________________________________________________________________

NOTE: On Saturday, December 18, 2010, history was made when the Senate voted 65 to 31 to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the discriminatory 17-year-old policy banning lesbians, gays, and bisexuals from serving openly in the military.

NCLR guest blogger Huong Nguyen has shared her military dismissal under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” through her weekly diary blog series. This latest piece ends the series. Read Part One: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way, Part Two: Light Bulb, Part Three: A New Identity, Part Four: The Education of Private Nguyen, Part Five: The Girl, Part Six: No Air, Part Seven: The Truth Will Set You Free, Part Eight: The Trial, Part Nine: The Story, and Part 10: There’s A Place For Us.

Nguyen is an attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she resides with her wife and two children.

 


NCLR Applauds “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Repeal

December 18, 2010

(San Francisco, CA, December 18, 2010)—Today, the U.S. Senate voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the discriminatory 17-year-old policy that bars lesbian, gay, and bisexual people from serving openly in the military.

The House approved the measure on Wednesday, December 15. With the Senate’s 65 to 31 vote today, the bill now goes to President Barack Obama, who campaigned on the promise that he would work with Congress to repeal the policy. After signing it into law, the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff need to certify that the ban can be lifted without affecting troops. The ban will then be lifted 60 days after that.

NCLR congratulates and thanks the many organizations that have worked so hard on this issue both in Congress and the courts, including: Servicemembers Legal Defense Network; the Human Rights Campaign; Servicemembers United; the Palm Center; the Center for American Progress; OutServe; the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force; National Black Justice Coalition; Get Equal; Log Cabin Republicans; and Stonewall Democrats.

Statement by NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell:

“This is an emotional day for the thousands of lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members and their families who have lived under the shadow of this shameful policy for nearly twenty years.  We extend our heartfelt gratitude to the individuals and organizations who have worked tirelessly to overturn this destructive law.

We also thank President Obama and Congressional leaders for their unflinching commitment to bringing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to an end. For the first time, Congress has recognized lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members as equal citizens who must be treated with full dignity and respect. While much work still lies ahead, this victory is a true turning point and moves us closer to a day where we truly live up to the ideal of liberty and justice for all.”

Media Contact:

NCLR Communications Director Erik Olvera | Office: 415.392.6257 x324 | EOlvera@NCLRights.org


Part Ten: There’s A Place For Us

December 16, 2010

By Huong Nguyen

Year: 2010

The girl became my wife. Sixteen years after we first met, Alison and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and are proud parents of two wonderful boys. Two years ago, we were legally married in her parents’ backyard, surrounded by our closest friends and family. We had the unique joy of sharing that milestone with our children.

~~~

In 1997, the military discharged me without any characterization—meaning, neither honorable nor dishonorable. They also did not seek repayment of my scholarship because, according to them, it would have caused a public relations nightmare.

After a brief leave of absence, I went back to school with the help of financial aid put together by the school to replace my lost scholarship. Most importantly, although ROTC remained on campus, the school promised to financially assist others who found themselves in my situation so they too could complete their education.

That same year, a UCLA professor invited me to her class to speak about my military experience and gave me a poster as a token of her appreciation. The poster shows a soldier in Army dress uniform wearing a pink triangle pin like a merit badge. The words on the poster read: “Ready to Fight, Lift the Ban.” It also contains a handful of signatures of brave lesbian and gay soldiers who stood up to inequality and suffered the consequences long before the current military ban, the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Policy, was promulgated by Congress in 1993.

~~~

Today, that poster hangs in my office and is a constant reminder that my work—our work—is incomplete.

We must continue to fight to repeal the ban for the thousands of lesbian, gay and bisexual soldiers currently serving our great nation. It is incredibly cruel to require them to forego fundamental life experiences—such as marrying or raising children—as a condition of service. When I enlisted in the military at 18 years old, I could not have known that the ban would affect me. That I, at age 21, would meet the person I wanted to share the rest of my life with. And that this person would be female. The arc of my life since being discharged is a testament to the profound unfairness of the ban for those currently serving.

We must also continue our work because we are not full citizens until we can serve openly. Military service is a touchstone of citizenship, one which carries tremendous significance in American culture. The 1940s racial integration of the military laid the groundwork for the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. When soldiers of different races ate, fought, and served alongside each other, they came to understand each other’s full humanity and equality of citizenship. And the seeds of that understanding were spread to every community that welcomed home those soldiers. Like my ROTC colleagues who defended my right to serve openly, soldiers who work and fight alongside openly gay colleagues will gain a new perspective on the humanity and equality of their fellow soldiers and take that perspective back to their communities.

“The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.” – Tony Kushner, Angels in America, 1993.

Acknowledgements:

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the many people and organizations that supported me throughout my ordeal. It takes a large village to educate a student.

In particular, I salute the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) for fielding my call 15 years ago and advising me throughout the coming out process. Since then, SLDN has helped thousands of service members who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual, or who are perceived to be so, navigate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

I am also grateful to David Mixner, for going to bat on this issue (despite subsequent passage of the Solomon Amendments) and helping me manage the media and preserve my dignity in a difficult time. He has also worked tirelessly on a number of other LGBT issues throughout his illustrious career.

I thank Rae Lee Saporin and Chancellor Charles Young of UCLA for helping me obtain financial aid to complete college, and for their promise to help others like me in the future.

And, of course, I thank the girl, my wife, the love of my life.

~~~

Read Part One: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way, Part Two: Light Bulb, Part Three: A New Identity, Part Four: The Education of Private Nguyen, Part Five: The Girl, Part Six: No Air, Part Seven: The Truth Will Set You Free, Part Eight: The Trial, and Part Nine: The Story of Huong Nguyen’s diary blog series.


Part Nine: The Story

December 9, 2010

By Huong Nguyen

Whoa! That’s my life, not news. Don’t print it.

But the school newspaper reporter argues: “We’re going to, with or without your consent. Your story is important to the debate about ROTC’s presence on campus in view of the school’s nondiscrimination policy.”

Okay, I’ll give you the story, but I need some time to tell my family first.

~~~

How can I tell my Vietnamese family that their daughter is gay AND an utter failure? One or the other would be hard enough. But both? At the same time? And, to do so using vocabulary of a 6 year old? That sounds like a bad Asian-American afternoon special. 

Eight months ago, I had a career, a scholarship, and a dream. I had a family of fellow soldiers who I admired and respected. Almost every morning, I woke at the crack of dawn to train with them and on most nights went to sleep thinking about how to do it better the next day. I had a sense of purpose, belonging, and a mission in life.

Today, I am lost. I have none of those things. No scholarship. No way to pay for tuition. No way to go to school. All I have now is the looming threat of repaying the scholarship money I received so far and, the risk of a dishonorable discharge—a scarlet letter that would forever stain my career. All this because I told the truth.

But what I didn’t expected is how much I miss my military family, and simply being a soldier. You see, I left the ROTC program abruptly. One day, I was in line to lead the cadet battalion. The next day, I was gone, with no explanation. My fellow cadets did not reach out to me because they apparently didn’t know what had happened. I, ashamed and hurt, did not contact them.

~~~

The school newspaper story is printed, causing a media crush, with TV, radio and print all wanting a little piece of my story. I just want to tell them, “All you want is a punchy three-second sound bite, but I’m no poster child for any cause. I don’t want to sue the military or kick ROTC off campus. All I want is to crawl under a rock with the girl and listen to Morrissey until my fate is decided.”

There is a silver lining to all this madness, though. It’s the discovery that my fellow cadets have not abandoned me after all. This touches me deeply, and makes my burden so much more bearable. Soldiers, serious about their commitment, know that casualties are inevitable in any war. They also know that it’s vitally important to conduct themselves with integrity and honor in the midst of chaos. And, they know to never leave a fallen comrade behind.

One letter to the school newspaper stands out.

It reads:

I have seen letters and statements from many different groups concerning Huong Nguyen’s suspension from UCLA’s ROTC due to her bisexuality. As a fourth-year ROTC cadet, I’d like to add my opinion to the pile.

I support Nguyen in her bid to remain in UCLA’s ROTC program and be commissioned as an Army officer. I was a friend of Nguyen and trained with her last year up until she left the program, and would have written this letter last May had I known the true reason for her departure.

Nguyen took seriously the military officer’s commitment to personal integrity and made her sexual orientation known in keeping with that commitment—rather than be dishonest about her off-duty lifestyle. Everyone I have talked to in ROTC respects Nguyen for her leadership abilities, dedication and military competence and would welcome her back if she wins reinstatement to the program.

I want to say further that I personally support not only Nguyen, but all Americans denied the chance to serve in defense of their country because of their sexual orientation.

I don’t stand to lose my commission for having a girlfriend or for being seen with her; there’s no reason gays should have to conceal their social lives to avoid discharge from the military.

I have known several gay men and women in six years of active Army duty (and I’m sure I knew many more who didn’t choose to tell me), and I never noticed that they were any more or less competent and trustworthy than anyone else.

I agree with Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, who said that a soldier has to shoot straight, not be straight.

Good luck, Huong. I’d be honored and fortunate to serve alongside you in uniform one day.

~~~

 

The Story.

Read Part One: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way, Part Two: Light Bulb, Part Three: A New Identity, Part Four: The Education of Private Nguyen, Part Five: The Girl, Part Six: No Air, Part Seven: The Truth Will Set You Free, and Part Eight: The Trial of Huong Nguyen’s diary blog series.


NCLR Supports the National Women’s Law Center’s Rally for Girls’ Sports: She’ll Win More Than a Game Campaign

December 8, 2010

By Helen Carroll
Sports Project Director

Over the last 35 years, a lot has changed in women’s sports. But despite the advances, the playing field is still far from level, and there’s no easy win to this game. Take high schools for example. High schools across the country are still not providing equal opportunities for girls to participate in sports. Some are even cutting athletic opportunities in ways that worsen existing gender inequities or create new ones.

High school girls are half the student population, yet they receive only 41 percent of athletic opportunities. In absolute terms, this means that girls in the United States have 1.3 million fewer opportunities to play sports than boys.

To address this ongoing discrimination, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) has launched the Rally for Girls’ Sports: She’ll Win More Than a Game campaign. As a part of this campaign, NWLC has filed complaints against 12 school districts across the country for failing to provide high school girls with equal opportunities to play sports in violation of Title IX, the 1975 law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education programs.

The school districts named in these complaints vary greatly, reflecting all sizes, regions, socioeconomics, and student demographics. Based on their own data submitted to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), all of the named districts are failing to provide high school girls with equal opportunities to play sports, as required under the law. NWLC is asking OCR to investigate the high schools in these districts to ensure that girls receive equal access to these valuable educational opportunities. But these schools are examples of a much larger problem. OCR should also examine other schools, and schools themselves should look at their own data and take the steps necessary to treat their female students fairly.

In addition to calling on the U.S. Department of Education to investigate this growing problem, the Rally for Girls’ Sports campaign features advocacy and outreach to parents and other adults; a Facebook and Twitter campaign; a national hotline, (1.855.HERGAME), which people can call to report inequities; and public education, including an educational webinar to help school officials, parents and advocates learn about Title IX’s requirements. 

NCLR strongly supports NWLC’s campaign, and we hope you will as well. NCLR has been working to improve Title IX compliance and opportunities for women in sports since our Sports Project began over 10 years ago. Our work has often focused on enforcing Title IX’s protections for lesbians, gender non-conforming girls and women, and transgender women and men n sport. We have successfully advocated on behalf of coaches and athletes who have been discriminated against because they did not conform to outmoded gender stereotypes. As we have seen firsthand, discrimination based on gender non-conformity, which is prohibited by Title IX, is closely linked to homophobia and transphobia. Title IX has given us the tools we need to tackle them both, and we will keep fighting until all girls, women and coaches of women’s sports are playing and coaching in fair and respectful environments.

In fact, young athletes who face multiple and interconnected barriers imposed by gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and economic status are the first ones left behind when schools are not enforcing the basic principles of Title IX and sports opportunities are not available. For example, studies show that girls of color are less physically active during adolescence than Caucasian girls and are less likely than Caucasian girls to participate in sports outside of school. Girls and women of color who play sports not only benefit from the physical activity, but also experience higher levels of self-esteem and are more likely to be involved in other extracurricular activities than girls and women of color who do not play sports. Title IX’s mandate of equality in school athletics programs is especially important for these young athletes.

For the last nine years as NCLR’s Sports Project Director, I have worked daily with these athletes, as well as with coaches and others who face blatant discrimination and have sought NCLR’s help to continue to have the chance to participate, or have a career, in sports. Title IX is a powerful legal tool in those cases.

If all of us speak out about the need for gender equity in athletics, it will make a real difference not only for thousands, but hundreds of thousands of girls and women, especially those who most need the life-changing benefits that come with participation in sport. NWLC’s Rally for Girls’ Sports campaign raises awareness of these issues and sends a message that schools will be held accountable for noncompliance with the law. Please help us spread the word about this important campaign. We need to ensure that future generations of girls have an opportunity to play.

Learn about NWLC’s Rally for Girls’ Sports campaign.

Read about NCLR’s Sports Project.


Analysis of Ninth Circuit Oral Argument in Perry v. Schwarzenegger (Federal Prop 8 Challenge)

December 6, 2010

By Shannon Minter, Esq.
National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director

Today was the long-awaited oral argument at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal court challenge to Proposition 8. The Ninth Circuit is the federal appeals court that covers California. Today’s argument was heard by a panel of three judges, who will decide whether to uphold District Court Judge Vaughn Walker’s August ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.

The argument ran for almost two and a half hours, covering two basic questions:

  • Do the proponents of Prop 8—and Imperial County, which is seeking to intervene in the case—have the right to appeal Judge Walker’s ruling, even though they do not represent the State of California? The legal term for this question is whether the proponents have “standing” to appeal.
  •  Is Prop 8 unconstitutional?

It is never possible to predict how any judge will rule based on the questions that are asked at argument, but overall, today’s argument seemed to go well for the plaintiffs. The panel asked difficult questions throughout and were particularly tough, on both sides, on the standing issue.  In the end, they seemed skeptical that Imperial County has standing to be in the case. They also seemed to recognize that recent U.S. Supreme Court cases raise serious questions about whether the proponents of an initiative like Prop 8 have standing. 

Some of the panel’s questions hinted that they might ask the California Supreme Court to rule on whether California law gives the proponents of a ballot measure the power to force an appeal over the objections of the official representatives of the state (the governor and attorney general). Arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs, attorney David Boies forcefully argued that even if California law would allow the proponents to defend the initiative, the proponents still could not meet the federal requirements for bringing this appeal because they cannot show that they are directly affected in any way by whether same-sex couples can marry. 

In the second hour, on the constitutionality of Prop 8, the panel’s questions focused on two general areas: the unique circumstances under which Prop 8 was passed in California — where same-sex couples had the right to marry before Prop 8 stripped that right away; and the principle established by the U.S. Supreme Court in their 1996 decision, Romer v. Evans, that a state cannot deliberately discriminate against gay people just to send a message that they are inferior.  

At least two judges seemed critical of the argument that Prop 8 can be justified based on arguments relating to procreation—which was the central defense offered by the proponents’ attorney Charles Cooper.  Repeatedly, the judges pressed Cooper on how procreation could possibly justify Prop 8 when California law gives same-sex couples exactly the same parentage rights as heterosexual couples, and has affirmatively embraced same-sex couples as equally good parents.  

Arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs, former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson urged the court to reach the broad question of whether same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the U.S. Constitution.  In an argument that complemented Olson’s, Therese Stewart, Chief Deputy City Attorney  for San Francisco, did a brilliant job of laying out why Prop 8 is uniquely irrational because it took away an existing right, because California continues to give same-sex couples all of the substantive rights and benefits of marriage, and because the stated purpose of Prop 8 in the ballot materials was to counter the idea that being gay is “okay.”

Stewart also made a crucial point about what it means for a court to determine that the only justification for a law is “animus,” or bias, against a group of people, which would be unconstitutional. Contrary to how the proponents have framed this question in the media and in court, Stewart rightly argued that from a constitutional perspective, finding that a law was based on “animus” does not have to mean that the voters intentionally sought to harm gay people.  Rather, unconstitutional “animus” can include situations where the voters failed to think about what is really at stake for the targeted group, or failed to guard against a natural tendency toward stereotyping of unfamiliar or historically disfavored groups.

Together, Boies, Olson and Stewart were a great team and did a phenomenal job of presenting the most powerful arguments for upholding Judge Walker’s decision. There is no specific timeline for the Ninth Circuit panel to issue a ruling, but they have expedited the case up to this point, and we may see a decision within a few months.  In the meantime, unfortunately, same-sex couples in California will have to continue to live under the state’s separate-but-equal system that designates our families as second-class.


Video Blog: NCLR’s Kate Kendell Responds to Prop 8 Oral Argument

December 6, 2010

NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell responds to the oral argument in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal court challenge to Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that stripped the freedom to marry from same-sex couples in California.


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