LGBT Rights Pioneer Frank Kameny Died on National Coming Out Day 2011

President Obama hands Frank Kameny
the pen which he used to sign a
presidential memorandum
extending benefits to same-sex partners
of federal employees.

One of the first strategists in the gay rights movement in America, Frank Kameney (86), died yesterday.

I first learned of Mr. Kameny while watching “Before Stonewall“, a documentary about the pioneers of the Gay Movement before the 1969 Stonewall Inn Riots on Christopher Street in New York City. Since then I have seen his name pop up again and again in the fight for basic civil rights in America.

He worked tirelessly to increase the acceptance of gay men and lesbians in mainstream American society and to gain homosexual equality through the legal system. 

Mr. Kameny, a Harvard PhD lost his federal government job as an astronomer with the U.S. Army Map Service in 1957 because of his homosexuality.

After being let go he led a tireless fight for gay and lesbian rights. He and a friend began the Mattachine Society of Washington, and in 1965 Kameny and his group were the first ever to picket the White House and the Pentagon in the name of gay rights.

This was of course years before a true gay rights movement existed in any recognizable form. It was also a time in which being an open homosexual could be seen as an invitation for getting the shit beat out of you. He instructed his picketers to wear appropriate business attire including suits and ties in order to not draw attention to themselves in a negative way.

It was his assertion that gays and lesbians should not accept the stigma of being sick because of their homosexuality and subsequently organized a drive which eventually caused the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness.

He lived to see not only benefits extended to same-sex partners of federal employees, but also the end to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military.

There is a street in Washington D.C. which has been named for this hero of the gay movement, documents and papers of his were part of an exhibition on civil rights at the Library of Congress, and his picket signs from 1965 are now in the Smithsonian Institution.

I call on Congress to come up with a Frank Kameny bill which would finally offer basic civil rights protection for America’s LGBT citizens. What a fitting tribute to the work of a man who coined the phrase, Gay is Good.

“Not only are the government’s present policies on homosexuality irrational in themselves, but they are unreasonable in that they are grossly inconsistent with the fundamental precepts upon which this government is based…we may commence with the Declaration of Independence, and its affirmation , as an “inalienable right” that of the “pursuit of happiness”. Surely a most fundamental, unobjectionable, and unexceptionable element in human happiness is the right to bestow affection upon and to receive affection from whom one wishes. Yet, upon pain of severe penalty, the government itself would abridge this right for the homosexual”
-From Kameny’s Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, January, 1961

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What Kind of Fresh Gay Hell is This? (OR Why are you in Germany, Snooker?)

Today I received an email from Democrats Abroad (the overseas branch of the US Democratic Party). In it was a warning that discussed how the consulate services would change for people wanting to bring foreign family with them when they move back to the U.S.

In that letter was a simple text which caught my eye, “We have a long-standing commitment as Democrats Abroad to simplifying the path to citizenship and legal permanent residency for non-American spouses and close family members”.

Uh huh… and gay and lesbian spouses?
Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot?

I did a little Googling and found not so much as a
news piece on how DA is supporting legislation in the House and Senate right now… the Uniting American Families Act of 2011.  

OK, so I don’t regularly pump money into the DA, but I do support them occasionally. Upon reading this email, I am struck by the notion of  “What have you done for me lately, DA?”

I’ll give DA a break because actually there are relatively few people/organizations who care about my plight. But before I delve deeper into my special situation, perhaps you should know more about it. Let’s go to bullets, shall we?

  • Fell in love with a German girl in 2000
  • She came to visit me in the States often in 2001 and 2002, I also visited her in Berlin during these years
  • Tried to legally have her move to America starting in 2003 with a student visa (no other legal methods available – university is free or cheap in Germany, but we are willing to pay for the education if it means we can be together).
  • Based on the fact that she had entered the country six times in the past two years she was considered a “risk of overstay” and denied a student visa which also cancels her out of the visa waiver program forever… she can’t come to America for at least year because of this denial. 
  • Shortly after the denial she pays more money for the privilege to go to the Consulate – armed with proof that she intends to return to Germany – to appeal the denial of both the student visa and the visa waiver program.
  • She met with the same woman who had denied the original request… you guessed it, denied once again. (K**** ******, if Sweet No ever sees you on the street, she won’t be such a Sweet No anymore.)
  • On the other side of the Atlantic, I tried Lambda Legal Defense who told me that if either she or I had a penis, this would all be really easy… but gays can’t petition to bring their future spouses to America… Sorry Snooker.
  • Found out that the states which have recently been allowing gay marriage have nothing to do with our situation. Immigration is at the federal level, and thanks to the Defence of Marriage Act, (DOMA) the feds (and the other states) don’t have to recognize any homosexual marriage performed in those states, not to mention other countries. Sorry again, Snooker.
  • Tried a shyster immigration lawyer who was happy to take my money and petition “da gubermint” for us, but to no avail.
  • Sweet No goes back to the American Consulate in Berlin after her year banishment from travel to America and meets up with a nice guy who seems to sense her desperation and takes pity on her, issuing her a 10 year “B1/B2 visa”, allowing her to travel to the States again, and with much more lenient travel restrictions (maximum length of stay 6 months instead of the normal 3 months). 
  • Happy Dance… but still, it doesn’t REALLY keep us together.
  • Sweet No wants to work and be a contributing member of society, just coming in for VISITS is simply frustrating. Of course entering and overstaying illegally are not even up for consideration. 
  • In 2004 I got sick and tired of watching my girl walking to airport security through the tears in my eyes and decided to move to Germany to be with her. FuckYouWashington
  • Sold everything, gave up my career, said goodbye to friends and family in preparation to leave.
  • 2005 the cat and I leave the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” to be in Germany which accepts my love of a woman. Germany also allows me to have a “separate, but equal” civil partnership with Sweet No. Immigration is pretty much the only benefit of the Lebenspartnerschaft, but it was a good thing in our case. (Thankfully the Greens keep making another go of equalizing this situation in Germany, maybe some day they will get lucky.)
  • January of 2005 we signed our civil partnership and had our – yes, we share a birthday – birthday on that same day. Great birthday present, no?
  • Because of her special visa we are rather lucky, she isn’t under suspicion as are many others in our situation. If foreign same-sex spouses come to the United States accompanying a U.S. citizen, (even for a short visit of the U.S. citizen’s family), U.S. Immigration might deny visa privileges to the spouse out of fear that they will be tempted to overstay their visa dates to remain in the country with their spouse (perhaps even challenging the anti-gay marriage laws as we are LEGALLY partnered in another country). Thus, gays and lesbians (especially politically active ones) have been known to be turned away at the gates.
  • Wish us luck, that visa expires in just a few years. 

In the end I had to face lots of the same problems as other “love exiles”. I had to give up my career and move far away from my family. This is being felt even more now that my Mother is dealing with declining health and I would like to be there for her. But as it is, if I need to be in the U.S. for a longer period of time, I have to choose between being with my wife or being with my American family. It’s really rather unfair, and it makes me into a second-class citizen… one who STILL needs to pay American taxes even though I don’t live in the country. 

So where are you going with this, Snooker? 
I really don’t know. It is just that something has been awakening in me lately.

Those who came before helped to blaze the trail for me and others like me to be openly gay, often at great

Political cartoon by Darrin Bell

personal sacrifice to themselves. Those pissed off queens turning the tables on police during a scam raid on the Stonewall Inn in the late ’60’s and starting the “Gay Revolution” are a fine example. Barbara Gittings and her friends stood up and said that they wouldn’t take being considered second class citizens – and worse yet, mentally unstable – during the ’60’s (which lead The American Psychiatric Association to officially declassify homosexuality as a mental illness in 1974 – but it wasn’t until 1992 that the World Health Organisation followed suit). The good people of GLAAD and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have done so much to further the cause. And who could forget Harvey Milk and the work he did for the community before being gunned down himself.

Let’s not forget the organizations working tirelessly on this very topic:
Immigration Equality Action Fund
Out4Immigration
Love Exiles Foundation

So what are you doing, Snooker? is a question I often ask myself. Yeah, I’m living pretty well, but only because I ran. I am part of a US binational same-sex couple who had the money and ability to simply move away from the situation and now the whole anti-gay thing doesn’t have so much of a grip on me.

This has reminded me of a book I have recently seen advertised, “Torn Apart – United by Love, Divided by Law” by Judy Rickard. Perhaps I should just order it now, proceeds go to organizations working to overcome U.S. immigration denial for same-sex binational couples. (tick, tock… time passes… cue shot to a clock with moving pendulum) OK, the Internet has worked its magic. The book is probably whizzing my way right now. It was even available at Amazon.de.  

But what about the others? What about those folks left behind who would like to have the same rights as the supposed “normal” people in our society? What about those kids right now who are counting on my generation to do our part to further gay civil rights to benefit their generation? UGH, that is a terrible weight to bear. But I say here and now that I will do more towards this goal. I DO still have a vote in American politics (my wallet feels it, even if I sometimes don’t), I DO still have a voice in what happens. Perhaps I just need to raise that voice a bit more often.

Any suggestions how I can do that?
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I See Dead People

This years’ Halloween was different in Berlin for some reason. I think the Germans are catching on to this thing.

First off I was invited to a real, grownup Halloween party thrown by non-Americans. Yup, they even had Halloween themed foods and the Eyeball Punch had the most potent eyeballs I’ve ever tasted.

The invitation said that partiers should show up as a dead person. Marie Antoinette was there as well as some characters out of books with the majority being real-life people. Eva and Adolf even made an appearance, surprisingly. The mix was good.

Like other costume parties of my past the people showed their creativity and ingenuity. The Phantom of the Opera folks were great. There were a few folks who just looked ghoulish with white face paint and blackened eyes, but at least they were working it, and if asked they always had a story about who they were supposed to be.

What I didn’t see was the most annoying trend which was getting so big when I left the States. There were no girls at the party which had taken the opportunity of a costume party to dress as skankily as possible. No, there were no “slutty girl costumes” in evidence.

Amongst the ladies there was not one single set of kitty or bunny ears placed just so within the hairline, no push up bras to unnaturally accentuate cleavage, and definitely no leotard-looking things with cotton-tail bunny butt.

I must say that it was refreshing.

The only people I saw dressed like this were the group of 9 American kids in the subway. They were of course the loudest and drunkest group around. The girls were all dressed in the “skanky costume”, and the guys were all showing their lack of imagination as well with the standard wool cap with the attached stick looking like it has gone through the head… oh, but let’s put some fake blood trickling down the face and onto my shirt… that will make it look better.

Also different this year was an even bigger street presense of the kiddies in search of candy. Seven o’clock last night we were witness to about four groups of roving kiddies going from building to building in our neighborhood. As we were driving around the city, we also saw a few more groups. Wow, I don’t think I’ve EVER seen that before.

I know they’re a long way from having a costume day at school, but things are moving closer into that direction. Let’s just hope they can avoid what has become obligatory in America… the Slutty Girl Costume.

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Dear Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

Dear Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport,

My recent overnight stay in your older but generally uninteresting Terminal 2 due to a canceled red eye flight was not really the highlight of my trip, but it did certainly put an unusual cap on what had turned out to be a rather unpredictable excursion overseas.

Being part of a group of people who have just had their lives changed by those silly words, “Flight Canceled” is not always a nice experience, but at Sky Harbor, at least it wasn’t sooo horrific. It must be said that at least the place is kept clean. Since I was not allowed to stay in the gate area, I was witness to the cleaning crews as they waged war on dust particles all along the “lobby”. As I loitered in what must be the world’s most uncomfortable seats I was treated to one woman “training” two others how to clean. Not really a lot of fun, but was very entertaining since none of the three had a common language.

I’ve been using Sky Harbor Airport since the mid 80’s when jetways were a luxury and disembarking customers were shuttled down steps onto the slightly mushy tarmac which had been subjected to the heat of both jet engines as well as the wilting temps of the Phoenix desert weather.

Perhaps I should let it be known that I think the name Sky Harbor is fantastic. It is a harbor for things which fly through the sky. How simple, how eloquent, how lovely.

Also, the airport’s fantastic location in relation to where my Mother lives has made visiting her oh so very simple. My Mother and brother live 10 and 15 minutes away respectively, how great is that? I can pretty much call my brother right after touch down and know that he will be waiting for me outside after I pick up my luggage.

IF they didn’t live so close, there are great options such as the “Cell Phone Waiting Lot” system which is pure genius! How smart is that? Call your source of transportation as you see your bag pop out of the baggage claim, and BOOM, they drive directly out of the special lot to your pick up point!

May I just discuss another point of genius? Free Wi-Fi everywhere in the airport! How freaking fantastic is this? Flight canceled? Crank up that computer and see what else is available. Bored while waiting for your flight? Play some online video games, catch up on a little work, or simply research your next vacation.

Need to get a message to a passenger coming into Sky Harbor? You can either do this through the Internet, onsite at a special terminal, or by phone. At the baggage claim and at other areas throughout the terminal there are huge signs with PAL (Paging Assistance Location) displaying personal messages such as; “Bill and Judy, we’ll be on the north side exit waiting for you at door number 5”. Wow!

Years ago I had a proposal of marriage in one of PHX’s terminals but perhaps the PAL system would have been better for this. The girl I was dating had been thinking for some time about popping the question to me. We were going to be in the same terminal of PHX within about 12 hours of each other. She called me and told me to visit the ladies restroom closest to blah blah (I say blah blah because I have long since forgotten the details) gate. Then I was to go into a particular stall and get my message. As I had suspected she was asking me again in a new and different way if I would marry her. No, I didn’t take her up on it and later when we met again in Wichita I turned her down again. Moral of the story, never accept a proposal of marriage made in a toilet or from someone who would think that location was cool/romantic.

Then there was the Box Knife Incident. It was fall of 2002 and I was to catch a flight in Terminal 4. I went through security to my gate only to find it was still deserted because I was there so very early. Already seated there and looking bored was a woman who checked me out surreptitiously when I came to sit down. As I neared my chosen area I saw a box knife simply lying discarded on one of the seats. This was much like the weapons supposedly used by the terrorists on 9/11.

I approached it while visions danced through my head of the security detail I had just gone through to get to this supposedly “secure” area of the airport. Once again I met the eyes of the only other passenger in the waiting area. As I looked from her back to the box cutter I got the idea that she had already noticed what I had found and was also unwilling to touch it.

Eventually we talked about it and I told her that I would like to take the potential weapon of mass destruction to the check in desk, but that I would like her to confirm to anyone with further questions that it was sitting there before I had even made it to the area. She concurred and we talked for a minute or two about how that thing could have gotten past security and why on earth someone had abandoned it there. Soon I got up and carried it very cautiously (you know, by the edges to keep from smudging any possible fingerprints – have I watched too many cop shows or what?) over to the desk with three airline employees.

The airline representative took one look at what for me was a dangerous object and simply grabbed it out of my hand (not caring about any fingerprints, let me tell you) and threw it in the trash can at her feet. I nervously told her that it was not mine, that I had found it on a seat in the waiting area opposite, and that I was worried about it. She dismissively told me that I had done the right thing and that now it was safe. WTF? It was safe? In her trash can? To this day I often wonder if that was some kind of test.

Through the years I’ve been in and out of this airport MANY times. So many times that I know which side of the plane to sit on to get the best view of “A Mountain“, and what time of day is best to see shadows on the ridges of the local physical geography. Want any of that goofy information? Simply ask.

OK, enough of airports… let’s get a look at a frustrated kitty.
Oh, you have to watch through to the end. 😉

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Ahh… we meet again

I am in the last few hours of a visit to the U.S. (Phoenix specifically). In the last week I’ve run into so many little things which are sorely missed as I live out my daily life in Berlin. Being a fat kid… yup, it’s just the way it is… a good percentage of those things which are sorely missed just happen to be food.

Yes, that is Taco Bell. If you were able to actually read the “hot sauce” package you would see, “Ahh, we meet again”. How true is that? Love it!
After I make a “Run for the Border” and come back to the States, it isn’t long before I’m downing a Burrito Supreme. Add to that crab legs and tonight’s prime rib… and a person could get the idea that I just come back to the States for the food.

Oh well, soon I’ll be back in my beloved Berlin meeting up with my good friend, Fresh-Baked Pumpkinseed Roll!

So what is it? What would you have trouble living without if you left your home?