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While Celebrating Halt to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Gay Rights Movement Confronts Teen Suicides, Homophobic Electioneering and Violent Attacks

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The Nation's Richard Kim joins us to discuss some of the major issues facing the gay rights movement in America today, including Tuesday's decision by a federal judge to end the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy; the surge in gay teenagers committing suicide; the homophobic remarks of politicians ahead of the midterm elections; and the recent brutal beatings and torture of three New York men because of their sexual orientation. [includes rush transcript]

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StorySep 20, 2011“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Ban on Gay and Lesbians in the U.S. Military is Lifted
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the United States military to immediately stop enforcing the seventeen-year-old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that prohibits openly gay men and women from serving in the military. Judge Virginia A. Phillips of the Federal District Court for the Central District of California issued an injunction one month after she ruled that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law is unconstitutional. Tuesday’s ruling bans enforcement of the law and orders the military to immediately suspend any investigations or discharge proceedings.

The decision is likely to be appealed by the Department of Justice, but White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the injunction is under review and reiterated that President Obama will, quote, “continue to work as hard as he can to change the law that he believes is fundamentally unfair.”

AMY GOODMAN: Many gay rights groups have welcomed the ruling, but the decision comes at a grim time for gay rights advocates. Ten men have been arraigned, two of them just last night, on hate crimes charges here in New York after they allegedly brutally beat and tortured three men because of their sexual orientation.

September and October have also witnessed a rash of suicides by gay teenagers across the country. In the past five weeks, at least seven gay and lesbian teenagers have committed suicide, in many cases following incidents of bullying or public humiliation by classmates.

For more on all of these stories, we’re joined here in New York by Richard Kim, senior editor at The Nation magazine. His latest blog post is called “Against 'Bullying' or On Loving Queer Kids.”

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Richard.

RICHARD KIM: Thank you, Amy. Thank you, Juan.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let us begin with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Explain the significance of yesterday’s ruling.

RICHARD KIM: So, you know, the Log Cabin Republicans were the people who brought forward this case, and they’re actually urging people in the military to not come out yet, because there might be an appeal. But what you saw here is really the party of no; the Republican Party is really the party of homophobia. When Obama came to office, he campaigned, in part, on getting rid of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He put in place a review in the military, legislation in the last defense appropriations bill that would have gotten rid of it. Senator John McCain filibustered it. And not one — not one — Republican member of the Senate moved over to the Democratic side to break the filibuster.

So, what you’re seeing here is really the courts being the avenue of last recourse. And the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, wanting to do this legislatively, they were stopped by the filibuster. And the courts consistently, whether it’s on issues of marriage or Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or employment, have been really the avenue of last recourse, because there’s been no legislative progress on this.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But now the administration is in the difficult position now of having to decide whether to appeal a ruling that it — in essence, a law that it has said it opposes.

RICHARD KIM: Right, and that’s the same situation that it faces in the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama has said that he doesn’t agree with that legislation. That’s being challenged by the state of Massachusetts and a bunch of gay rights groups. So, you know, it’s in this position where, is it going to defend these just on federal prerogative? Is it just going to assert, you know, it’s the federal government, it has the right to determine law? Or is it going to do what is right?

And this is really important, moving into the next Congress, because any chance we had of reversing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or DOMA legislatively is going to go from, you know, small to zero. And so, the courts really are the only avenue here. And the Justice Department, the Obama administration can take a different position and say, “We are not going to appeal these decisions. We agree with them.” They’ve already said they agree with them. And they should do the right thing at this moment and really, you know, let justice take its course.

AMY GOODMAN: As of yesterday, does this mean that no one can be kicked out of the military?

RICHARD KIM: At the moment, there’s an injunction, and no one can be kicked out of the military. There will be an appeal of that injunction, and it’s unclear what happens with that process.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to this horrific torture session that happened over the weekend, this terrible attack on three young men. Can you describe what happened in the Bronx?

RICHARD KIM: So, there were two seventeen-year-olds and one thirty-year-old, and they, in varying times, were picked up by this gang of youths, tortured and sodomized, forced to drink, really brutalized over the course of many, many hours.

AMY GOODMAN: And forced to torture each other.

RICHARD KIM: Forced to torture each other, burn each other with cigarettes. Really, really horrific crime. The police made a first set of arrests over the weekend. And that was when Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor, chose to make his remarks basically saying that gay and lesbians are inferior people. So —

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, actually, let’s go right to his remarks.

RICHARD KIM: Yes, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t going to do this quite yet, but the Republican gubernatorial candidate here in New York told a group of Hasidic Jewish leaders on Sunday that children should not be “brainwashed” into thinking homosexuality is acceptable.

CARL PALADINO: I didn’t march in a gay parade this year — the gay pride parade this year. My opponent did. And that’s not the example that we should be showing our children, and certainly not in our schools. And don’t misquote me as wanting to hurt homosexual people in any way. That would be a dastardly lie. My approach is live and let live. I just think my children and your children would be much better off and much more successful getting married and raising a family, and I don’t want them to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option. It isn’t.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That was Carl Paladino speaking to a group of Hasidic leaders on — over the weekend. This is him on Monday appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America defending his comments.

CARL PALADINO: I’m not a homophobic. I have no reservations whatsoever about gays. The only — except for marriage. And Andrew Cuomo said he took his children to a gay pride parade. I was at one in Toronto. One time we stumbled on it, my wife and I. It wasn’t pretty. It was a bunch of very extreme-type people in bikini-type outfits grinding at each other and doing these gyrations. And I certainly wouldn’t let my young children see that.

AMY GOODMAN: This is very interesting, the Buffalo billionaire businessman attacking gay men and lesbians, because, Juan, in your newspaper, the New York Daily News_, the pieceii.html reads, “Carl Paladino says kids shouldn’t be 'brainwashed' into thinking it’s okay to be gay or be taken to a 'disgusting' gay pride parade.

“But he had no problem when his son, William, ran Cobalt, a nightclub once dubbed Buffalo’s 'gay club of the moment.'

“And he had no problem cashing [in] the rent checks from Cobalt and another gay club called Buddies II, both of which were located for years in buildings [that] he owned.”

Richard Kim?

RICHARD KIM: So, you know, this just reveals the utter hypocrisy of Carl Paladino. Gays are really OK when they’re contributing to his coffers and making a lot of money for him. When it’s time to court the Hasidic vote, he panders to really the worst kind of homophobia. The comments he made don’t necessarily have a policy implication, but it’s much broader than that: it engages in the systematic dehumanization of gay and lesbian people. And that’s absolutely related to the attacks that happened in the Bronx and to the incidents of anti-gay bullying that we’re seeing across the country. You know, I think he’s really revealed himself, in addition to the racist emails he sent, as quite a crude, hateful politician.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, in addition, he also blasted his Democratic rival, Andrew Cuomo, for taking his daughters to a gay pride parade, saying, “Would you take your children to a gay pride parade?”

RICHARD KIM: You know, there are tons of children at the gay pride parade in New York. You see politicians marching in it all the time. And, you know, Carl Paladino has apologized, in part, for his remarks, and I would hope he comes to the next year’s gay pride parade, in whatever capacity, hopefully as a private citizen, and, you know, sees what it’s really about.

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You’ve written in The Nation about — we talked about this rash of teen suicides as a result of bullying by classmates, and you’ve talked in a Nation piece about your own experiences in terms of bullying and how — the impact on gay teenagers across the country of this epidemic, really, that rarely gets much attention.

RICHARD KIM: Right. So, we now — latest numbers say that as many as thirteen gay and lesbian or trans teens have killed themselves since September. And the scary part is, this may not even be an uptick. This may actually be the norm, and we just don’t have very good tracking on this. You know, that includes Aiyisha Hassan, a lesbian who killed herself, a Howard student; Zach Harrington, who was just nineteen, who killed himself after he attended a town hall meeting in Norman, Oklahoma, where people were debating whether there should be a gay and lesbian history month, and people used the word “perversion,” “sick,” “deranged” at that meeting, and he took his life shortly thereafter. So, what you are really seeing here is the human consequences of politics and ideology that dehumanizes gays and lesbians.

And, you know, you could also draw a really straight line from all this stuff to the Bush administration’s abstinence-only education policy, which puts into schools curriculum that either doesn’t mention the fact that gay and lesbians exist at all or, when it does, compares it, homosexuality, to bestiality or incest. This is millions and millions of dollars over the last nine, ten years going into this kind of curriculum. So this is what people are actually taught in schools. Is it really any surprise then that there should be a rash of bullying and suicides as a result of this?

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what happened in Rutgers, also right nearby in New Jersey.

RICHARD KIM: So, there was a student there, Tyler Clementi. He was just eighteen, a violinist. It was the beginning of his freshman year. He had had a sexual encounter with a man, which was broadcast by his roommate, without his knowledge, obviously, online. And then a few days later —

AMY GOODMAN: And just to explain, he had asked his roommate if he could have the room alone until midnight or something.

RICHARD KIM: Right, right. And the roommate had put out a tweet saying, “It’s happening again,” and went to a neighbor’s room, Molly Wei, and the two of them together broadcast it online.

AMY GOODMAN: They had turned on the webcam in the room —


AMY GOODMAN: — unbeknownst to Tyler.

RICHARD KIM: Exactly, exactly. And this was not the first time they had done this, in fact. This was the second time they had broadcast it. So, Tyler, then, a few days later, jumped off the George Washington Bridge. And, you know, it’s a horrific, horrific, awful tragedy.

What I find somewhat disturbing as a result of this is that the attention has been so much on the punishment of the two Rutgers students, who undoubtedly contributed to an awful act, are immature, prurient, and deserve some punishment for invasion of privacy, at the least. I’m not so clear that they did this just out of anti-gay bias, and I don’t want to also lump them into the teens that attacked the people in the Bronx. I think we’re looking at very different crimes, and we’re looking at very different places where we can make interventions.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But the general problem, obviously, is still that America has not come to grips, whether it’s among teens or adults like Carl Paladino, with its deep, deep-seated anti-gay bias that continues to affect so much of the public discourse on this issue.

RICHARD KIM: Yeah, you know, you’re seeing people come out a lot earlier. This is very new, in the last five or six years. And you’re seeing them come out not when they move to New York or San Francisco, but in Oklahoma, in Michigan, in the Bronx. And, you know, it’s challenging America, I think, to really look at teenagers differently, to look at sexuality differently, to look at gay and lesbian identity differently. It’s difficult for parents and teachers to do this. We need to have a real national conversation about that and then to put into place education policies that are about comprehensive sex education.

AMY GOODMAN: You, at the same time, have this controversy with the South Carolina Senator DeMint, who reiterated a statement he made back in 2004, so this is not reviving a controversy by someone who wants to take him on in his senatorial race, but it’s saying that gay men and lesbians, saying that single women, should not be teaching in schools.


AMY GOODMAN: And he brought it up and said he agrees with what he said then.

RICHARD KIM: Right. And, you know, DeMint is not the only one. You have Marco Rubio in Florida, who supports a ban on gay adoptions.

AMY GOODMAN: Who’s ahead in the Florida race.

RICHARD KIM: Who is comfortably ahead now. Charlie Crist used to support that ban, and then he sort of tacked to the center. You have Sharron Angle, who also supports a ban on gay adoptions. Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, who’s running for Senate, supports a ban on gay adoption. So, you really have a policy in place across the Republican Party, but especially in the Tea Party, that says, “We don’t want gays and lesbians raising children. We don’t want gays and lesbians teaching children.” And the real message here is actually not so much at gay and lesbian adults, but it’s at gay and lesbian kids who might find comfort and nurturing from these adults. And the message is: please don’t exist. That is the message that these people are sending.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, I was watching, after the attack, after Tyler committed suicide, Rutgers had a speak-out, where all the administration was there, and one young person after another described what it meant to be gay on campus or to grow up and be harassed. What should schools do? I mean, the numbers for young gay men and lesbians growing up is staggering, how many say that they were harassed, and gay men and lesbians who are grown up.

RICHARD KIM: Well, I first want to say it can’t just be schools. It has to be parents — a lot of this starts at home — parents of gay and lesbian children, but also parents of children who aren’t gay and lesbian and who engage in the bullying. What schools can do, there’s two sort of tracks. One is to put in place — and some states, like Massachusetts, have done this — anti-bullying laws, which require teachers to report incidents of bullying, to have trainings about that. I think that’s fine. But before that even, we need comprehensive sex education in this country that teaches children that gay and lesbian and transgender people exist, that they’re part of the spectrum of human sexuality. And we are so far, Amy and Juan, from approaching that, in part because of the years we spent going backwards on sex education rather than forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Richard Kim, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Richard Kim is senior editor at The Nation magazine.

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