Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where We Stand

With the California Supreme Court’s decision upholding the passage of Proposition 8 comes a share of disappointment, and a helping of bafflement. This is a ruling that legal scholars will fight over for decades. In allowing same-sex marriages already in force to stand, but disallowing any further marriages, the court has applied a temporal double standard.

It’s obvious that eventually, Prop 8 will be repealed, either by voter referendum, or – like Bowers v. Hardwick – by a later court.

In the end, this ruling hurts California more than those seeking marriage. To be blunt, if gays and lesbians want to get married, they can move to Iowa or most of New England. Just a few short years ago, our only option was immigrating to Canada - a cumbersome, expensive process. But the gay community and our supporters now have a lot less reason to move to, or even visit, California. With the stratospheric cost of living and high unemployment, the Golden State has lost its luster.

I’ve read a lot in the blogosphere about President Obama’s stance on gay marriage, including displays of high dudgeon by politiqueers who proclaim that Obama “betrayed” us. Well, ever since he declared himself a presidential candidate, Obama’s position on gay marriage has been consistent: On the federal level, against full marriage - for civil unions; Repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and leave the states free to extend marriage rights if they so choose. It’s exactly the same position, by the way, that Hillary Clinton took, except she only called for the repeal of Section 3 of DOMA.

The fact is, no matter how one parses the various candidates’ positions on same-sex marriage, there’s very little a President can do on this issue. On the Federal level, the issue is entrenched. With the Democrats in control of Congress, it’s very unlikely a Federal Marriage Amendment banning same-sex marriage will be passed. Yet, even if Obama were in favor of full marriage equality, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party would not be enough to carry such a bill – and the 3/4 of states required would never ratify it. As the President has no jurisdiction over state initiatives, states will continue to do as they please, and the gay community must focus their marriage efforts in state-by-state battles. Ultimately, the war over same-sex marriage will be won or lost in the Supreme Court.

President Obama focused the first 100 days of his administration on the economy – understandably so. He has also been mending relations with America’s allies. Now the president needs to broaden his horizons, and remember one of the main groups that got him elected. Obama should concentrate on the areas where he can make a difference in our community: First, he should push for passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which is currently before the Congress. Then, he should get the Employee Non-Discrimination Act passed. Both bills enjoy broad support among the American people. Most Americans, even many conservatives, agree that no one should be assaulted or denied employment because they’re gay. Obama’s vigorous support of both bills will not cost significant political capital, and will help shore up his liberal base, which feels pushed aside by his refusal to prosecute members of the Bush Administration on torture and his increasingly moderate stance on domestic security.

But before he does anything else, President Obama should sign an executive order suspending discharges, effective immediately, under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law, pending review of the policy. That will buy him, and the military, time to work out a repeal of the policy, which will also require an act of Congress. It will also stop the hemmorhaging of qualified service members.

Our community suffered a defeat on Tuesday, and one doesn’t have to be Californian, or even gay, to realize the dangers to everyone when civil rights are repealed by popular vote. Lincoln would not have been able to repeal slavery by referendum. Truman did not put the issue of desegregating the military to a vote – even among his own cabinet members. Lyndon Johnson knew, when he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (after ramming it through Congress) that the Democrats had lost the South for (at least) a generation.

Now is the time for action, perseverance, and fortitude. It’s time for the gay community to stand up. The battle for our full equal rights will not be won in the White House, or the Congress, or the Courts. It must be won in the minds of average Americans, including heterosexuals. The only way to win that battle is if every gay American comes out.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

Breaking through Boundaries

There was a time when homosexuality was rarely spoken of, even unknown. Before the 19th Century, homosexuality didn’t even have its own name. Sodomy, being anal or oral sex, could refer to same-sex or opposite-sex acts.

During World War I, the discovery of a “vice-ring” in Newport, Rhode Island led the U. S. Navy to prosecute numerous sailors for “unnatural” relations, and those found guilty were thrown into military prisons. By the time the U. S. entered World War II officials realized it would be impractical to throw thousands of men in jail over sexual acts, especially when they were needed in civilian employment. So, the U. S. Military began asking draftees about homosexuality, with many young men having to have the word’s meaning explained to them. It wasn’t until after the war, with the publication of Kinsey’s two famous studies on sexuality that the public began to realize how common homosexuality was.

With the exception of some extremely brave pioneers like Frank Kameny, the vast majority of gay men and lesbians remained in the closet even as the sexual revolution rocked the heterosexual world.

In the aftermath of the White Night Riots of 1979, a unspoken deal was struck between the gay community and straights: “You live in your little gay ghettos (The Castro; Greenwich Village; Key West - and if you’re rich enough, you can even have a summer home in Fire Island or Provincetown), but don’t you dare move to our suburbs and disturb our tranquil, unthinking existence.” Even the onset of AIDS, which religious bigots described as God’s punishment, did not disturb that arrangement.

Today, in the United States, it’s increasingly recognized that gays come in all shapes, sizes, religions, and colors. We’re no longer consigned to select urban areas. Some of us are brave enough to move to the suburbs, or even the country, and live openly there. We work in all professions now, and refuse to be confined to earning a living as florists, chorus singers, or choreographers. And, despite the rants of religious extremists and lonely bigots, most straights accept gays, up to a certain point. But not all segments of society are equal in their acceptance.

The bravest of all are our men and women in uniform who choose to come out. People like Lt. Dan Choi, Lt. Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, and 2nd Lieutenant Sandy Tsao, who have risked their lives for their country, and who now risk their careers in the cause of justice. They are the heroes of our time, for despite open homosexuality in the ancient Greek and Roman armies, today’s military remains a conservative environment – particularly among older, higher ranking, officers.
When Bill Clinton clumsily tried to repeal the ban on openly gay service people in 1993, it coincided with the coming out of several service members, including Margarethe Cammermeyer, and Jose Zuniga, two highly decorated officers. Their coming out helped put to rest once and for all the ridiculous assumption that gays couldn’t fight or serve effectively. Today, even the most bigoted Congressman would not dare to utter such nonsense on national television. So, supporters of the ban created Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell on the proposition that openly gay people within the ranks would harm unit cohesion.

“Unit cohesion” is a fancy was of saying team-spirit – or the ability of people to work together. The ability of American military units to work together despite vast differences in racial, religious, and political background is important. But should it be held sacrosanct when it contradicts American ideals?

Harry Truman didn’t think so. In 1948 (months before a contentious election) President Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the military. This was a full 16 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – the passing of which was hardly a cakewalk. It would be naïve to pretend that unit-cohesion wasn’t impacted by Truman’s decision. It would also be an underestimation of Truman (and there were many who underestimated him in 1948) to imply he didn’t know there would be stress and tension among American’s military units. But Truman, as was often the case, followed his conscience and signed the order. It took six years for the military to be completely desegregated. But that still put the military ten years ahead of the country in general.

In 2009, the military has fallen behind the national standard. Americans, by and large, may not be ready to accept same-sex marriage. But the overwhelming majority believes that no one should be denied a job because he or she is gay – even if that job is in the military. Americans are not naïve like we were in 1940. Americans know that serving in the military means abandoning privacy – sleeping, showering, and relieving ones selves under one roof, often with no barriers. Americans also know that, if one belongs to a health club, one has probably already showered with a homosexual. It’s simply not a big deal in our evolving society. Increasing numbers of heterosexual soldiers are coming forward, stating they’re well aware of fellow soldiers who are gay – and that they just don’t care.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Latest Amazon Review

Haydn: Early London Symphonies
Haydn: Early London Symphonies
5.0 out of 5 stars Plenty to offer for those willing to listen..., May 20, 2009
By Hank Drake (Cleveland, OH United States) - See all my reviews
"There is a difference between the chaste sensuality of Mozart or Haydn and the lascivious sensuality of Richard Strauss. One cannot pour chocolate sauce over asparagus." George Szell

One of the greatest misconceptions about George Szell is that, while he was able to drill orchestras into incomparable playing, his interpretations were metronomic and lacked imagination. What a load of tosh.

Szell characterization of Haydn's Early London symphonies belies the notion of him as a cold-hearted autocrat. Note the bassoon "raspberry" in the slow movement of Symphony No. 93, or his handling of the "surprise" in Symphony No. 94 (for once, it sounds startling). Szell may not wallow in reckless rubato or allow his strings to exude syrupy vibrato, but there are many subtleties to be heard - for those willing to listen. Needless to say, the playing of the Cleveland Orchestra is peerless, not merely from the standpoint of hitting the right notes at the right time and faultless intonation, but that the various choirs of the orchestra are impeccably balanced. Clearly, these players have moved far beyond merely listening to themselves to listening to each other.

While all the works on this set were recorded at Severance Hall, which can sound dry even in modern digital recordings, that doesn't seem to be aproblem here. Dynamics, which were constricted, have been opened up. The strings have lost their aggressive edge and have a sweeter, more natural character. It says a lot about these recordings that they've hardly even been out of the catalogue since their initial release in the late 1960s. Many collectors may well have some, or all, of these symphonies already. Thanks to the improved sonics, it's well worth replacing the earlier issues of these recordings, and a must if you don't have them already.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mr. President,


As you know, Lt. Dan Choi is scheduled to be discharged from the military under the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. This despite the fact that members of Lt. Choi's unit have stated that they have no problem with Lt. Choi's sexual orientation, still respect him, and wish to serve with him.


Lt. Choi, as you also know, is an Arab linguist whose services are desperately needed at this time. He is the kind of qualified person the military wants to recruit, but seldom gets in this era of declining standards.


Mr. President, Harry Truman desegregated the military with the stroke of a pen. One of the many arguments used to persuade Mr. Truman not to desegregate the military was that doing so would damage unit cohesion. It's also true, though regrettable, that for a time unit cohesion was adversely impacted by desegretation. But then our military men adjusted, and learned to work together - which goes to the heart of America's determination to improve itself. Soon, race was not an issue in the military. Since DADT was passed by Congress, informed Americans know it will not be as easy for you to end it. But it can be done, and must be done.


Mr. President, I supported you in the Ohio primary and in the election. I did so realizing, as a gay man, that the nation had more immediate concerns, including the economy. But there is a time when other issues reach critical mass, and DADT is reaching that point. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: Mr. President, with great respect, stopping Lt. Choi's discharge and working to repeal DADT is a thing to do NOW.



Hank Drake

I urge all my readers to call (202-456-1111) or e-mail the White House.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Saw Star Trek twice this weekend.  Loved it.  As an old school trekkie, when this movie was announced in 2006, I was fully prepared not to like a reboot of the franchise.  Then, I heard Leonard Nimoy was going to be involved.  Knowing he'd retired from acting (he reportedly hates the early wake-up time required in film acting), I felt confident he would only be willing to don the ears again if the script was up to snuff.

By using the alternate reality plot device, the screenwriters were able to skirt the whole canon issue.  Frankly, I think the canon thing is bullshit anyway.  If you read Sherlock Holmes, there are loads of inconsistencies from novel to novel.  When it comes to Star Trek, 20 fans will have 20 different perspectives about what is and is not canon.  Paramount's policy is that the TV shows (with the exception of the Animated Series) and films are canon, as are a small selection of authorized technical manuals.  The novels are non-canon.  Roddenberry himself said, however, that Trek V, and parts of Trek VI, were apochryphal.  So, even official sources disagree.  As for myself, I think the Animated Series had better scripting and was closer to the spirit of Trek than Enterprise.

As for the new Trek, my favorite aspects of the film were the performances of Bruce Greenwood as Captain Pike (in fact, I wouldn't mind seeing a Captain Pike movie), the return of Leonard Nimoy (at 78, he still has game), the Kirk/Spock friendship getting off on the wrong foot, and the Spock/Uhura romance - which threw me for a loop.  Anton Yelchin, as Chekov, is far superior to Walter Koenig - there I've said it, please don't throw stones.  He looks more like a Russian kid (and I live in an area with a lot of Russian emigres) and he can produce a plausible, if corny Russian accent. 

There were a few things about the film I didn't care for.  I was shocked that Amanda (Spock's mother) was killed, then I remembered that I don't like Winona Ryder, so it was OK.  Also, the score sounded like your typical summer blockbuster score, loud, repetitive, with no memorable themes.  No Trek score can match Jerry Goldsmith's score from the first Trek movie, which in addition to being innovative, was amazingly subtle (how many people have figured out that V'ger's theme is a minor variant of Ilia's theme, which forshadows the Decker/Ilia/V'ger merging?).  Michael Giaccino's score was indisitguishable from the score I heard from Wolverine the week prior.  Most of the set design I liked (particularly the Enterprise bridge), but I didn't care for the Engine Room at all.  It looked like a brewery, which is apparently exactly what it was. 

Still, despite those quibbles, and the shaky camera work that seems to be in vogue these days, I thorougly enjoyed the new movie.  It had a dirt under the fingernails quality modern Trek has lacked.  Also, this film was FUN, which is something I haven't been able to say about any Trek I've seen since First Contact in 1996.