Saturday, June 27, 2009

'Why Don't You Guys Do Something' - By Mark R. Kerr

A woman in handcuffs was escorted from the door of the bar to the waiting police wagon several times, repeatedly escaping, fighting with the police, swearing and shouting, for about ten minutes until being hit on the head by an officer with a billy club for, as one witness claimed, complaining that her handcuffs were too tight.

Eyewitnesses stated the woman, whose identity remains unknown, sparked the crowd to fight when she looked at bystanders and shouted, "Why don't you guys do something" after an officer picked her up and heaved her into the back of the wagon, the crowd became a mob going “berserk” and the scene became “explosive,” - the beginning of the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969, marking the birth of the modern Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights movement.

Flash forward forty years and the scene is still “explosive,” especially since the current administration, from which many of those politically active in the LGBT community had hopes for change, chanting “yes we can,” have had nothing but disappointment five months into this new presidency.

As the woman being arrested at the Stonewall Riots, as well as others have stated in the past couple of weeks when LGBT issues, such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” full benefits and protections for LGBT federal employees, passage of a federal hate crimes law, repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) (not comparing LGBT families to incest but to other families - legal briefs aside) and not being counted openly and honestly in the upcoming Census has pushed the LGBT community to the forefront of the frenetic news cycle, it is time that we “do something,” maintaining, protest and sustained attention.

Over time and through past examples, public pressure will get even the federal government moving forward, on issues of concern in a positive and productive manner and that has even been the case recently with LGBT issues as well.

After filing an offensive legal response to a federal lawsuit challenging the 1996 DOMA law the Department of Justice invited LGBT legal groups to a meeting to start discussions on an upcoming case that challenges the constitutionality of it - in part due to the outrage and news reports over this matter but the activism, public pressure, outrage and protest hasn’t just been confined to one issue of concern.

As previously reported, the Early Treatment for HIV (ETHA), that allow states to extend Medicaid coverage to low-income individuals with the HIV virus before it advances to full-blown AIDS, is now a part of the House Health Reform Draft bill, thanks to activism and public support.

Seventy-seven Congressional members sent a letter to President Obama urging him to take immediate action to stop the investigations of "don't ask, don't tell" violations. The letter does not call for an executive order halting discharges but rather a change in how the policy is implemented within the Department of Defense, as noted in several news accounts.

Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force noted in a piece for the Huffington Post that the Obama administration, taking the steps on its own, right now, to start fulfilling its vision of change and equality stated in the campaign and on the White House website in regard to LGBT issues, such as:

By issuing an executive order, a “stop loss” to the discharge of Gay and Lesbian servicemembers pending Congressional review, hearings and passage of the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy enacted by Congress in 1993;

Funding LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying, suicide prevention and runaway and homeless youth programs and,

Reversing the regulations that continue to throw roadblocks in the way of HIV-positive individuals who want to travel to this country, just three of the policies that the president can change with his directive, resulting in a positive impact for LGBT citizens and the country as a whole.

Perhaps the administration is getting the message, when they invited LGBT citizens and their families to the White House, Monday, June 29, to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots but according to reports, “the White House has not publicized the reception, and officials did not respond to e-mail requests for comment. But gay leaders from here and around the country said they had received either telephone calls from the White House or written invitations to the event, and were told Mr. Obama is expected to speak. ...Whether Mr. Obama will address the complaints at Monday's reception is unclear. One person who received the invitation said the White House was billing the event as a celebration, akin to the festive affairs the administration holds on St. Patrick's Day or Cinco de Mayo.”

Forty years may have passed but LGBT citizens still have a long way to go and this isn’t the time for “celebration,” since what that Lesbian said while being arrested in front of the Stonewall Inn, still applies, not only to LGBT citizens but our elected officials as well.

No comments: