Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients Visit the Briefing Room

alex01thumbThe sixteen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, this country’s highest civilian honor, were awarded their medals today in the East Room of the White House. I was lucky enough to cover it today, even though I ended up, as per usual, behind everybody. Good pictures were hard for someone without a professional setup to come by – out of about 250 I took all day, I think maybe 30 are passably good. Gallery of acceptable shots to follow.

About an hour after the ceremony concluded, Billie Jean King herself came down to visit the briefing room, and consented to answer a few short questions. “I want to give everyone who made my medal possible a piece of it, but I wouldn’t have enough pieces!” she said to the press as she turned the medal over, revealing the engraved name on the back: Billie Jean Moffitt King. “I don’t deserve it, though. Harvey Milk deserved it,” she added. “This is the first time, I think, the LGBT community has really been honored by the White House.” Continue reading

Cripes, Not Another Book Challenge

alex01thumbI only had to read the lede to know that this story was going to make me angry:

A fight over books depicting sex and homosexuality has riled up a small Wisconsin city, cost some library board members their positions and prompted a call for a public book burning.

Are these people for real? “We don’t like this book, so we’re going to have it banned/burned”? I am actually speechless. Then again, I usually am when my favorite medium is so disrespected. A sane person would argue, “If you don’t like what these books say, you don’t have to read them. Nobody is holding your eyes open, A Clockwork Orange-style, and forcing you to read Rainbow Boys.”

Of course, why would anybody listen to reason when it’s so much more fun to damn the torpedoes and hide things you personally disagree with from public view? Continue reading

HuffPo’s (Unintentional?) Gay Porn Headline


The front page editors at Huffington Post getting a little cute with their headlines?  Here’s the actual headline to the article they linked to: Continue reading

Meghan McCain Quotes of the Week: Bras, Bugs, & Beta Males

Unfortunately, Meghan McCain’s boobs can’t really talk, but thankfully, Meg’s Twitter feed is such a treasure trove of good quotes, they really don’t have to.  Politico even put one of Meghan’s tweets in its “Politi-quotes: The week in one-liners,” but I think she deserves a whole list to herself.

First, there was Politico’s pick, Meg’s tweet about killing a cockroach in her sink.  Funnier than that, though, were her followups.  Apparently, this one spurred a flurry of cockroach fun facts:

WHAT? @HeyDaveJ Tip: Put a paper towel over the cockroach before you kill it. They carry eggs on their back, and that way they don’t spread. 9:58 AM Jun 27th from web

stop tweeting me about roach eggs people! good lord, I just killed one! 10:18 AM Jun 27th from web

I have to give Meg some props here.  Even though she said “Ewww!”, she did kill the roach herself.  Several years ago, I had a girlfriend who made me drive 2 hours to the City so I could kill a roach that she had trapped under a glass.  To be fair, the thing was the size of a Rottweiler puppy, but it was also missing a bunch of legs.

Now, killing is second nature to Meghan, putting her even more squarely in the “Cool Chick” category, the kind of girl that every guy wants to have a beer with, then have breakfast with.

My favorite Meg quote (aside from her perceptive take on our Meg story) was this 2-Tweet decimation of her conservative critics:

I love people that tell me “I’m doing damage to the GOP”, yeah cause Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, Sen. Ensign, Gov Sanford and the entire Bush administration have nothing to do with the GOP’s problems, no…it’s my 5″1 ass in a pushup bra thats the real problem with the GOP… about 19 hours ago from web

She’s right, of course.  The problem isn’t her ass, but the GOP’s habit of telling people what to do with their own asses, while stealth-hunting extracurricular booty.

Finally, she launches a funny one-liner at Hot Air blogger Allahpundit, who self-deprecatingly refers to himself as a “beta male”:

@allahpundit I don’t like beta males darlin’, I am a lot of a lot to date and guys gotta be able to handle it! 12:41 AM Jun 27th from web in reply to allahpundit

At least now, he’ll know who to call if he needs some exterminating done for him.

Other highlights this week include her run-in with an unhinged taxi driver, smackdown of a jerky Twitter troll, and coinage of a great Battlestar Galactica-related catch phrase.  What I’m saying is, you’re missing out on a full life if you don’t follow Meg’s Twitter feed.

Daily Kos Founder Twitter-Feuds with Meghan McCain Over Gay Marriage

This kind of thing really makes me mad.  I’m going to try to be chill, but there might be profanity below the fold.

Meghan McCain was tweeting about a Washington Monthly article that named her as a “meaningless” advocate of gay marriage:

It was pretty meaningless to hear Meghan McCain urge her Republican Party to come around on gay marriage. It seemed a bit more important when Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s campaign manager, gave the GOP the same advice.

But in terms of influence in Republican politics, Dick Cheney is on another level.

While their point is that Cheney carries more political weight, their swipe at Meg was gratuitous and inaccurate.  Meg has done more than most to publicize marriage equality, and not in the ugly, Perez Hilton way.  To call her meaningless, or all of the other non-Dick people who work hard to achieve equality for everyone, is just wrong.

So, when Meg pointed this out on her Twitter feed, here’s the response she got from Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas:


Before I comment further, and before I get to Meghan McCain’s statement on this feud, let me lay out the rest of the Twitter conversation for you, in chronological order: Continue reading

Lobbying a Hate Crimes Bill with Real Grassroots Activists

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Matthew Shepard Act this week, adding protections to existing law for victims of crimes based on the victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The bill now goes to the Senate, where I spent the early part of this week. I followed a group of citizens who are trying to persuade their senators to support the inclusion of transgender people in the final bill.

This isn’t the kind of lobbying that has given this kind of work a bad name. These aren’t well-funded corporate hacks trying to carve out a sweet deal for their industry. They’re ordinary Americans who joined together to make it harder for the government to ignore their voices.

They’re members of the National Transgender Center for Equality, and they want their elected representatives to go to bat for their right to exist, safely, in the United States.
The hate crimes bill in question does not involve enhanced penalties for these crimes, a common misconception. It provides resources and funding for investigation, enforcement, and training. It does, however, amend existing hate crimes laws to include several new classes of people for protection.

Hate Crimes and the Constitution

Critics of hate crimes laws argue that they violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Here’s a good summation of these arguments:

However, we don’t differentiate between murder for profit and murder for a particular animus of hate. Doing that creates a subtle but significant change in which the state has suddenly become the arbiter of thought, determining different outcomes based on thought despite the similarity of crime. The First Amendment arguments are obvious, but Jazz Shaw thinks this also violates the Fourteenth as well:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Long story short: When you pass laws which assign greater guilt to certain parties for committing the same crimes, based on nothing more than what they were thinking at the time and the “class” of citizens who were the victims, then you are providing unequal protection of the laws. You are assigning a higher value to the lives, liberty and property of some victims than others based on their sexual orientation, their race, skin color, religion, etc.

The problem with these arguments is that they assume that a hate crime is the same as a non-hate crime in every respect except the speech. Hate crimes, however, are attacks on an entire group of people. You wouldn’t treat an attack by a foreign power on the United States the same way you would a first-degree homicide, and the same principle applies here. The individual act is a threat on the larger population.

Transgender Equality

It helps to know what transgender means. It can be confusing to the uninitiated. Here’s NCTE’s definition:

Transgender is an umbrella term that refers to people who live differently than the gender presentation and roles expected of them by society. There are many kinds of people who fit this term and the rest of terms describe some of them.

The rest of the pamphlet I linked goes into detail about the spectrum of people covered by the term, including transsexuals at various stages of transition, intersex people, and cross dressers. Terminology can be a minefield even to well-intentioned people, but most transpeople I know are very patient if your heart is in the right place.

Transgender people have played an unusual part in the LGBTQ movement. While they are often its most visible members, and hence lightning rods for the movement’s opponents, they have also been left behind at times when the movement made progress.

For example, most of the people involved in the Stonewall Uprising would qualify as transgender, yet when it came time for negotiations on the Employment Non Discrimination Act, prominent gay rights advocates were willing to exclude transpeople to ensure its passage.

Lobbying Congress

On Monday and Tuesday, I accompanied members of NCTE as they met, strategized, and went to Capitol Hill to lobby their congresspeople. I sat in meetings between them and legislative aides to Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, These people met with their senators with no influence to trade on, not very many votes to leverage, really only with their own humanity on their side.

I listened as they told their stories to the young legislative aides, who listened intently.

Lorianne Blake, a transwoman and NCTE member, told the story of an attack she endured at the hands of a group of young men. She was traveling on business, and had left her hotel to find a place to eat. A group of young men accosted her, yelling, “Hey, it’s a dude in a dress!”

They chased her and beat her badly. When the police questioned her, they never asked her about her attackers, their descriptions, or anything. They only wanted to know what she was doing walking in public.

While Lorianne spoke, I was moved by the softness with which she told her story. Not a trace of anger or bitterness, just a plea for the safety that others enjoy.

Lorrianne also talked about how she had been discriminated against in the workplace, dismissed form her job without explanation. The NCTE was also lobbying for inclusion in upcoming ENDA legislation.

Sheryl Courtney-Evans told her story with energy and humor. She was waiting for a bus when some men in a passing car started to shout come-ons at her. Then, she says with a smile, “the penny dropped for one of them. He shouted ‘That’s one of them expletive expletives!'”

The next thing she knew, she says, she caught a pint bottle to the head. She says they sped off only because of approaching traffic.

She also spoke with compassion about employment discrimination in this economy, and the depths that it forces some transpeople into.

Monica Helms showed Senator Chambliss a photograph of her son, a Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. She talked about how her son, even as he faced peril in a combat zone, was more worried about her safety than his own. She reminded the aide that this bill is not about enhanced penalties, but that it sends a message to people that it is not OK to target transpeople.

Juliana Illari, like me, is an ally of the trans community. She is a professional lobbyist who lent her expertise to the NCTE delegation. We both have friends and loved ones in the transgender community, and recognize that it is our responsibility to stand with them.

The legislative aides we talked to seemed very receptive, but it remains to be seen how this will translate when it comes time to vote. Politically, there’s not much in it for the two Republicans from Georgia, who stand to lose more from their conservative base than they stand to gain from a relatively small voting bloc.

Still, the rest of the NCTE delegates lobbied tirelessly all over the Hill, and they are optimistic that the final bill will be passed, and will include them.

Personally, I have to say that, although I was already in their corner, I came away from this with a new appreciation for this kind of struggle. It is a stunning achievement given that these people have little to wield against the wheels of power than their own soft voices.// // Tommy on: Daily Dose:

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