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Commentary Last Updated: Feb 8th, 2006 - 16:40:38

Bush�s homophobic spying confronts the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the National Black Justice Coalition, and "Brokeback Mountain"
By Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D.
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 8, 2006, 16:29

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Is it any surprise that under the despotic, fear-mongering, theocratic rule of George W. Bush spying on Americans who disagree with his domestic and foreign policies has become commonplace? Is it any wonder that there were attempts to establish the morals and ethics of spying on Americans? �A group of current and former intelligence officers and academic experts� met in late January 2006 to do just that.

As a January 18 New York Times article noted,

In times of extreme fear, American leaders have sometimes scrapped civil liberties in the name of civil protection. It�s only later that the country can see that the choice was a false one and that citizens� rights were sacrificed to carry out extreme measures that were at best useless and at worst counterproductive.

That could not be more accurate than when it comes to gay and lesbian military personnel and those who oppose the discriminatory fiasco called �don�t ask, don�t tell.� Bush�s deficit-ridden administration has dismissed thousands of gay and lesbian military personnel using its interpretation of the policy. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, estimated it cost the Pentagon nearly $200 million to recruit and train replacements for the nearly 9,500 troops that had to leave the military because of the policy. Those dismissed included thousands of highly skilled personnel, including translators.

But just dismissing gay military personnel was not enough for the Bush administration and its domestic spies. A December 17, 2005, article was based on information from Sirius OutQ and NBC News:

A secret Pentagon document shows that the U.S. military has been spying on what they call �suspicious� civilian meetings -- including protests over �don�t ask, don�t tell� held at various college campuses across the country.

NBC News was able to obtain only eight pages of the 400-page report, but that small portion showed that Pentagon investigators kept tabs on April protests at the University of California, Santa Cruz; State University of New York at Albany; and William Patterson College in New Jersey. A February protest at NYU was also listed, along with the law school�s gay advocacy group OUTlaw, and was classified as �possibly violent.� All of these protests were against the military�s policy excluding gay personnel as well as against the presence of military recruiters on campus.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) wanted to know why the Pentagon considered those who exercised their rights under the United States Constitution were considered �a threat.�

The SLDN database indicated �that the Pentagon has been collecting information about protesters and their vehicles, looking for what they call a �significant connection� between incidents. Of the four �don�t ask, don�t tell� protests listed, only one -- the University of California, Santa Cruz, where students staged a �gay kissing� demonstration -- is classified as a �credible� threat.�

Kissing makes for a �credible threat�? To what? To whom? The answer is obvious: to the fanatically anti-gay evangelical Christian Right pulling Bush�s strings.

Then news came that:

The administration is refusing to turn over documents related to allegations that it spied on LGBT civil rights groups.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which represents gays in the military, and other LGBT rights groups sought the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. They filed the request early this month and asked that the government respond within 20 days. . .

The FOIA request included a demand for �any and all documents� concerning meetings and communications within and between LGBT organizations, including SLDN. The filing included a request for �reports, video recordings, audio recording and photographs� obtained through Pentagon surveillance.

Joining SLDN were Gays & Lesbians Against Defamation; the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association; the Human Rights Campaign; the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission; the Los Angeles Lesbian & Gay Center; the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund; Lambdas, Chicago-Kent College of Law; the Mautner Project; the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects; the National Youth Advocacy Coalition; Outlaws, University of Michigan School of Law; Pride at Work, AFL-CIO; QLaw, University of Wisconsin School of Law; and OUTLAW, Stanford Law School.

The FBI said the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network�s Freedom of Information Act request did not �reasonably describe� the records sought. How�s that for a bald-faced lie? But it isn�t as nakedly brazen as what came from the FOIA spokesman for the Attorney General�s office and the Department of Justice -- both of which support spying on Americans -- that said their office �would not maintain� the requested records, �but did not indicate if it had conducted a search to be certain.�

The Defense Department -- under the rule of Donald Rumsfeld -- closed ranks, saying the SLDN was not an organization primarily engaged in disseminating information to the public. What�s that got to do with the �freedom of information�? But then again, the Bush administration has been one of the most secretive in U.S. history, as a New York Times editorial pointed out:

The open government law that guaranteed greater freedom of information to the public will soon be 40 years old and desperately in need of legislative overhaul, thanks to the Bush administration. The White House�s sweeping enlargement of agency powers has already nearly doubled the rate of newly classified documents to 15 million a year. At the same time, the administration has choked back the annual volume of documents declassified for public access, from 200 million in 1998 to 44 million lately. At the heart of this thickening veil are direct presidential orders . . . [italics added]

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network filed �a federal lawsuit Monday [February 6, 2006] hoping to get answers to reports the Bush administration is keeping files on LGBT groups as part of its domestic spying program.� [links added]

Presidential orders and the �don�t ask, don�t tell� fiasco had already become even more bizarre, as the Associated Press reported on January 25:

Hundreds of officers and health care professionals [approximately 350] have been discharged in the past 10 years under the Pentagon�s policy on gays . . . many were military school graduates or service members who went to medical school at the taxpayers� expense -- troops not as easily replaced by a nation at war that is struggling to fill its enlistment quotas. . .

Late last year Army officials acknowledged in a congressional hearing that they are seeing shortfalls in key medical specialties. �What advantage is the military getting by firing brain surgeons at the very time our wounded soldiers aren�t receiving the medical care they need?� said Aaron Belkin, associate professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Professor Belkin�s question is well taken, especially considering a report -- contracted by the Pentagon -- that said the U.S. military is stretched so thin -- a �thin green line� -- that it could snap.

The only things the Bush administration seems really good at are anti-gay discrimination, spying on Americans, screw-ups, cover-ups, and secrecy. Witness the latest behind-the-scenes anti-gay efforts of the Bush administration:

The National Endowment for the Humanities has systematically rejected grants for gay-related research projects even when such projects are given top ratings by independent academic review panels . . . Officials with the American Historical Association�s Committee on Lesbian & Gay History accuse the NEH of allowing Bush administration political appointees to reject funding for gay-related research in the social sciences based on politics rather than accepted academic standards.

�There has been a clear trend at NEH to give greater scrutiny and opposition to gay and lesbian related proposals,� said Leisa D. Meyer, immediate past chair of the Lesbian and Gay History Committee and associate professor of history and women�s studies at Virginia�s College of William and Mary.

The Bush administration is defined by its screw-ups. Remember the �faulty intelligence� Bush used to take the country to war in Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction that didn�t exist? And who can forget the colossal blunders following Katrina -- a hurricane that more than a few in the Republican Christian Right claimed was �God�s wrath� on a sinful city to stop a gay pride event? Now, that ongoing screw-up is part of yet another Bush administration cover-up:

The Bush administration, citing the confidentiality of executive branch communications, said Tuesday [January 24] that it did not plan to turn over certain documents about Hurricane Katrina or make senior White House officials available for sworn testimony before two congressional committees investigating the storm response.

But some details have come out, as reported by Eric Lipton in a January 28 New York Times article:

The White House was beset by the �fog of war� in the crucial days immediately after Hurricane Katrina, leaving it unable to respond properly to the unfolding catastrophe, House investigators said Friday [January 27] after getting the most detailed briefing yet on how President Bush�s staff had handled the events. . .

�We are left with a picture of a White House that was plagued by the fog of war,� said David Marin, the Republican staff director to the House committee investigating the government's response to the hurricane. �The committee is likely to find a disturbing inability by the White House to de-conflict and analyze information -- and that had consequences.�

Of course that �fog of war� included Bush�s homophobic megalomania and how to get rid of more gay and lesbian military personnel using the �don�t ask, don�t tell� policy.

When the �Justice� Department went �fishing in cyberspace� and ordered Google to turn over millions of private citizens� personal Internet searches, what was it really looking for? The official reason was they were looking for search patterns that would show the effectiveness of anti-porn filters, especially those blocking �gay� sites. Why didn�t they just buy all the anti-porn filters and run the tests themselves?

Or were they just trying to scare Americans who might search for or come across information about the Bush administration�s ubiquitous anti-gay discrimination, colossal screws-ups, undercover spying on American citizens, closeted cover-ups and conspiracies, and its failed domestic and foreign policies, not to mention the DeLay and Abramoff corruption scandals and the related rot becoming more and more evident in the administration�s most avid supporters, the evangelical Christian Right?

An article entitled �How Abramoff Funded The Anti-Gay Agenda� appeared on the website of (Similar articles also appeared in the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle.) The article�s opening was just the beginning of the expos�:

One aspect of the corruption and bribery mega-scandal shaking Washington that is swirling around conservative lobbyist Jack Abramoff . . . and which hasn�t gotten much mass media attention: how a lot of dough from Abramoff-controlled slush funds went to leading homophobes from the religious right.

Some of that money went to one of America�s premier homophobes -- and crusader against Internet gambling -- Rev. Lou Sheldon, founder and chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition:

Abramoff did more than hire anti-gay luminaries as Rev. Lou Sheldon (head of the Traditional Values Coalition) and Ralph Reed (former head of the Christian Coalition [and current candidate for Georgia lieutenant governor]) with money from Abramoff�s clients and front groups to lobby for special interests. Abramoff also funded an anti-gay group close to the lobbyist�s best buddy and biggest water-carrier, Rep. Tom DeLay -- the U.S. Family Network -- with laundered money that has been traced to Russian oil interests. [links added]

According to the InfoShop article, �Sheldon�s Traditional Values Coalition received at least $25,000 from an Abramoff client, eLottery -- an online lottery company.� [italics added] Abramoff called Rev. Sheldon �Lucky Lou.� The moniker �Hyper Hypocrite� also comes to mind.

And let�s not forget rabidly anti-gay Pastor Lonnie Latham, a member of the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, who was booked into Oklahoma County Jail after being arrested for soliciting an undercover male police officer to join him in his hotel room for oral sex. Latham was subsequently charged with lewdness.

What really terrifies the theocrats of the Bush administration and the hypocrites of the Christian Right is information and truth. They are the natural enemies of the poisonous regime Bush and the Christian Right have inflicted on Americans, especially gay and lesbian Americans.

Supporting Bush�s anti-gay policies, the propaganda machine of the Christian Right pumps out erroneous �information� and vile, hate-filled attacks on gay and lesbian Americans on a daily basis. They even oppose health care for gay and lesbian partners:

A constitutional attorney says the University of Florida (UF) is seeking to advance a radical pro-homosexual agenda with its new healthcare plan for employees. Under the UF plan, the so-called �domestic partners� of both homosexual and heterosexual employees are eligible for health insurance coverage . . .

Steve Crampton, chief counsel with the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy, says, in this case, homosexuality appears to be the preferred lifestyle of the State of Florida. He notes that the UF healthcare plan favors same-sex couples over other unmarried people living together in a household . . . [italics added]

Steve Crampton is notorious for making outlandish anti-gay statements, such as the one he made following the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that �equal� means �equal� in relation to all civil institutions, including marriage: �Unless the people of the State of Massachusetts rise up with one voice in opposition to this lawless and socially destructive behavior, it will destroy society as we know it.�

The chief anti-gay Agents of Homophobia include James Dobson, Lou Sheldon, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Don Wildmon. Dobson, Falwell, Robertson, Wildmon -- and Ralph Reed -- are also listed as members of America�s ultra-conservative, theocratic star chamber, the Council for National Policy.

Nevertheless, more and more Americans are recognizing and rejecting the poison Bush and his sanctimonious Agents of Homophobia churn out. Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Kenneth Samuel, and Rev. Loyce Newton-Edwards spoke out strongly during a conference at the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta. Excerpts from Jonathan Landrum�s January 22 Associated Press story summarized:

Churches have an obligation to help end the �poisoned atmosphere� surrounding the acceptance of gay men and lesbians, the Rev. Al Sharpton said at a weekend summit organized by a national black gay rights group. . . . Several [speakers] portrayed it [gay rights] as a civil rights issue. . .

Sharpton . . . said Friday [January 21] that black church leaders need to acknowledge that homophobia affects everyone�s civil rights. �You cannot talk about civil rights and limit who�s included.� . . .

The Rev. Kenneth Samuel, pastor of Victory Baptist Church in the Atlanta suburb of Stone Mountain, received a standing ovation when he called for equality for all people and an end to hate crimes targeting gay men and lesbians.

Further details of the conference were provided by Matthew Cardinale in the article, �A host of religious leaders at an Atlanta conference denounced the Republican Party for targeting GLBT Americans and ignoring the real issues�:

The Republican Party �came and invaded the Black Church and tricked people into supporting Bush,� the Reverend Al Sharpton told a National Black Justice Coalition summit in Atlanta . . ."They couldn�t come to the Black Church and talk about war, health care, education, so they take the cheap way out [by focusing on gay marriage]. We need to be honest about that.� . . .

�How dare we oppress people when we ourselves have been oppressed!� the Reverend Loyce Newton-Edwards, associate minister of Prospect Missionary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, exclaimed in a panel discussion. [link added]

Rev. Sharpton -- who had some poignant comments for Bush at Coretta Scott King�s funeral -- Rev. Samuel and Rev. Newton-Edwards are absolutely correct, but perverting religion to advance the politics of hate and discrimination in order to deny certain groups equal civil rights was -- and still is -- common in America, as the Reverend John Shelby Spong recently noted in response to a reader�s question about America�s theocratic leanings:

America is a religiously schizophrenic nation. We have in our history been able to combine religion with the practices of slavery, segregation, lynching and violent racism. We have in the name of the God we claim to worship oppressed women, Jews and homosexuals. . . . Although history reveals that this practice never works, whenever the levels of fear become high enough this nation seems to walk down this same old road again and again. Once the society discovers itself under this kind of pressure and feels close to being overwhelmed by this kind of religious mentality, there is always a revolution to restore balance. . . .

That �revolution� is beginning, slowly to be sure, but beginning nonetheless. It�s appropriate that in today�s media culture Brokeback Mountain is leading the revolt against stereotypes, bigotry and discrimination:

David Fone of San Diego had �no desire to see the film,� but, like many men, was lured by Brokeback�s stellar reviews celebrating characters whose sexual orientation takes a back seat to their humanity. Fone acknowledges he �grimaced� during the love scenes but �enjoyed (the film) thoroughly.�

So did Linda Rodriguez of Los Gatos, Calif.: �Somewhere during the movie I forgot that it was about two gay cowboys and found it to be a very tragic and touching love story, and my boyfriend agreed.�

Anna-Marie Ganje of Minneapolis went with her husband; the film �haunted� them for days. �If you�re open-minded, you know that love between two people is love,� she says. (Related story: Brokeback selling well in the heartland)

As entertainment writer Flaven Ritcherson noted, �Films mirror society and besides being a really good movie �Brokeback� shows that attitudes in America are changing.� Those same insights were echoed in Melissa Dribben�s Philadelphia Inquirer article ��Brokeback� signaling a new attitude on gays?�:

Liz Smith and her brother, Hugh Carberry, went to the movies Tuesday night at the Ritz Sixteen in Voorhees [NJ], one of the few local multiplexes where you could catch Brokeback Mountain last week.

Smith, a registered nurse who works at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia, wanted to see the film �because I have friends who are gay, and I wonder what it�s like for them.� Carberry, a psychologist in private practice in Mount Laurel, said, �I see a lot of gay kids who are in high school, and it�s something I�d like to understand in order to help them.�

The pulse of a nation can�t be measured by the popularity of a single movie. But the early success of Brokeback Mountain, an anguished love story about two male ranch hands, is being interpreted by some as a sign that Americans are growing more compassionate and broad-minded about homosexuality.

The same conclusions were reached by William Doherty, professor of family and social science at the University of Minnesota -- �It�s very clear from surveys that the country has been moving rapidly toward more acceptance� -- and echoed in Leo Sandon�s Tallahassee Democrat article �Shifting toward acceptance: Films reflect new attitudes toward gays.� David Germain, writing for the Associated Press, agreed, as did others in the know:

[Brokeback Mountain] has packed theaters in both liberal-leaning urban areas and the conservative heartland.

�Once people saw the film, they understood that it was a film about a kind of epic greatness that can exist in anyone, anywhere, no matter who they are, no matter what their sexual orientation or class or historical circumstances,� said �Brokeback Mountain� producer James Schamus. . .

�I think American culture is closely allied with American political progress, and a film like �Brokeback� will absolutely kick down barriers and open up people�s hearts and minds,� said playwright Tony Kushner (�Angels in America�), a potential screenplay nominee for co-writing �Munich.�

�I think a lot of people who are afraid of gay relationships will go and see it, and they see a relationship that whether you�re gay or straight is immensely recognizable.�

Even The Wall Street Journal acknowledged the success of Brokeback Mountain, and with that box office success comes the dissemination of information, knowledge, truth and understanding: death knells to the anti-gay policies of the Bush administration and the homophobic paranoia propagated by the Christian Right.

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