Bisexual Veteran Talks About DADT and Community

bisexual-prideCliff Arnesen is the president of the New England Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Veterans, Inc., and a bisexual veteran who has worked tirelessly to help end the destructive military policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell(DADT).  His organization lobbies on behalf of BLGT vets and service members, and also provides services to those who have been discharged under DADT, as well as those who have to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, poverty, homelessness, and several other issues.  This past week Arnesen was kind enough to answer some interview questions.

Interview is from an email Q & A Session

Bi Social Network—Maria: How has Don’t Ask Don’t Tell affected you personally and how do you think it affects the bisexual community?

Cliff Arnesen: I know several service members who have been discharged under DADT. Some were discharged because they admitted their orientation, as they could not stand to live their lives as a lie; and others on hearsay; that has now been changed by Secretary of Defense Gates. The DADT policy specifically includes language in the Dept. Of Defense to discharge bisexual service members, along with gays and lesbians.

The Department of Defense Regulations Regarding DADT Policy State that if you make “Homosexual statements” you are suspect:

“You make a statement that demonstrates a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts. This may include language or behavior that a reasonable person would believe intends to convey the statement that you are a homosexual or bisexual.

U.S. military regulations say this about bisexuals in the military:

“Bisexual means a person who engages in, desires to engage in, or intends to engage in homosexual AND heterosexual acts.” “A member [of the Armed Forces] shall be separated if the member has stated that he or she is a homosexual or bisexual; unless there is a further finding that the member is not a homosexual or bisexual.”

Bi Social Network—Maria: Can you tell us a little bit about your organization and what you all do?

Cliff: Here is our mission as stated on our site:

The New England Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Veterans, Inc., is a not-for-profit, membership based, support organization for homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered and heterosexual, active duty, reserve and veteran members of the United States Armed Forces, their families, friends and supporters.

Priorities include: providing assistance with upgrades of all less-than-honorable military discharges based upon GLBT sexual orientation(s), VA benefits awareness, and advocating on behalf of GLBT veterans who suffer from AIDS, Homelessness, PTSD, Gulf War Syndrome, Blindness, Drug & Alcohol Abuse, Institutionalized discrimination, and other problems.

Also, to the extent permitted by law, the organization morally opposes the inhumane “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy and all sodomy laws of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which are arbitrarily applied against homosexual, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered service members; and encourages our own members, as well as other groups in a position to do so, and to support their repeal.

Bi Social Network—Maria: What kind of opposition have you faced with regards to your work and where has it come from? Are most anti-DADT organizations you’ve encountered inclusive of bisexual people?

Cliff: Personally, I wish we as human beings did not have to label our sexual orientation(s). But, as is the case in the U.S. Military where bisexuality is “specifically” encoded as a basis for discharge, I must “speak up” when it is not fully integrated in the equation of the generic “gays” in the military,”  that is espoused by many gay organizations.  The same is true for both the gay and straight media – whether intentional or unintentional.

Therefore, in order to secure human and civil rights—not special rights—and win the battle against the military and gain acceptance within society, I submit that all GLBT people must have, and maintain the mindset that “we are family.”

Otherwise, we are shooting each other in the foot!  So, to the “family” I state that bisexuality is NOT a counterfeit behavior. It is a true “sexual orientation.” The fear lies within the mindset of people that oppose the concept of bisexual people as having “heterosexual privilege.”

To those folks I state that people have lived and died without ever having found love in this world. So, love is where one finds it. Thus, no love by anyone of a specific sexual orientation or gender identification or expression should be judged by others! We GLBT people must remember that we are all children of God. We need each other to fight the real enemies: the religious right; perverted organized religions [and] cults; fundamentalists; conservatives; white supremacists; and so many others who hate GLBT people and use the Holy Bible as a means and tool to try and justify their sick hatred of us—collectively.

We must ALL band together to fight the injustice of the aforementioned dark forces of evil. Otherwise, we defeat the very purpose of trying to secure human and civil rights for each other—which is the ultimate injustice!

To this effect, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

So, I rest secure in the knowledge that [all] GLBT people have a rightful place in the universe and within our society, as we are God’s children, and God does not make mistakes!

As for myself, I have learned in my painful journey through life that “love is where one finds it.”

Bi Social Network—Maria: Do you think Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will be overturned?

Cliff: Yes! But, I pray it will happen before the November mid term elections. Many Americans are angry at President Obama and Democrats about the healthcare bill, and the backlash will be felt far and wide.

Bi Social Network—Maria: What can we in the bisexual community do to support your work?

All my bisexual brothers and sisters need to be “visible” in terms of writing or calling President Obama and members of Congress to let them know that YOU are BISEXUAL and want the policy repealed. Ditto, for [all] [g]ay newspapers and media which “omit” the term [and] name bisexual in their respective articles.

And lastly, here is a letter which our board wrote to President Obama; as well as a photo of my testimony before Congress.

“As a bisexual in the military, there is no distinction in terms of punishment,
no refuge in being bisexual. You get the same consequences; you don’t get half a discharge.”
–Cliff Arnesen Quote from Lesbian News: October 2001

Bi Social Network—Maria: Thank you so much for your valuable input!

The War for Equality

lgtb equalityThe BLGT community has been enjoying a lot of victory and support of late. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people are portrayed positively on our televisions and in film, there are many gay, lesbian and bisexual performing artists and now the community has begun to realize some real life victories. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed by a 234-194 vote. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has been repealed—making the definition of marriage something that State governments determine rather than Federal. Joining this list of victories is the overturning of California’s “Prop 8” bill declaring:

With so many victories under our collective belts it can be easy to trick one ’s self into believing that the war for equality is being won. The danger in believing this is that it tempts us to forget the other battles that are being fought.

A report from the Kyrgyz Republic—released days after the Prop 8 ruling—reveals that the lives of thirty bisexual and gay men are fraught with danger and persecution. Of thirty men interviewed for this report, twelve identify as bisexual men while fifteen were age 25 or younger. The report goes on to reveal stories that many in the BLGT community are familiar with:

“It happened in December. A guy was stopped by militia. Out of nothing they start checking for documents. He didn’t have any. He’s a bit feminine, mannered – so they got it immediately. They said: “You’re gay, aren’t you? Let’s go to your parents now.” They demanded eight thousand soms.”

Labrys, an orginazation aimed at improving the quality of life for the BLGT community in the Kyrgyz Republic was founded in 2004 and currently has 1,000 members. Syinat Sultanalieva, executive director of Labrys, said in February that violations of the rights of people of non-traditional sexual orientation occur most frequently within the family, saying of her organization: “Our organization has started a ‘refuge’ project. We provide temporary accommodation to those people who have been thrown out of their homes, or who have left of their own accord because their families do not accept the choice they have made,” With bisexual and gay youth being thrown out of their homes and forced to seek refuge, it begins to become clear that the struggle for equality and acceptance is far from over.

Other battles are far more subtle and far more dangerous. Also within days of the prop 8 decision, bioethicists are accused a noted American pediatric endocrinologist and researcher of what they claim is the first attempt to prevent homosexuality and bisexuality in the womb. The pediatrician, Dr. Maria New of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Florida International University, is a longtime champion of the prenatal use of a powerful steroidal medication called dexamethasone to prevent the development of congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH )— a condition which can result in girls being born with ambiguous genitalia.

Amongst the bioethicists charging Dr. New is Alice Dreger, professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine who charges:

“Her main goal has been to prevent ambiguous genitalia and all the things that come with it, including what she calls ‘behavioral masculinization’ [sic] She includes in that what she calls ‘masculinized orientation.’”

CAH has a status as a rare condition—prompting several medical societies to suggest guidelines be put in place that establish prenatal treatment for CAH as experimental. Additionally the guidelines will note that dexamethasone can cause low birth weight and birth defects. The proposed guidelines do not mention and are not concerned with sexuality or orientation.

This style of Eugenics may seem like something from science fiction—however, it is clear that the prejudices against gay, lesbian and bisexual men and women are alive and well and it appears that there is a long way to go before the war for equality is over.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – A Memorial Day Reflection

memorialSince the end of the Civil War, the United States has honored its fallen service members on Memorial Day so it seems appropriate for those of us associated with Bi Social Network to remember the members of the BLGT community who have served and died in action.

It also seems rather appropriate to note the continued effects the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has on bisexual, lesbian and gay service members.  It’s even rather interesting — shall we say — that the House of Representatives voted to repeal DADT so close to the holiday.  The Senate Armed Services Committee in turn voted to approve the repeal measure, sending it to the full Senate for a vote.  If the Senate votes to repeal, then it would go into effect only after the projected December 1st submittal of a report by a Pentagon Working Group.

There seem to be more politicians for the repeal than against.  There seem to be more military top brass for the repeal than against.  More Americans are comfortable with same-sex attractions than ever before.   Yet there still seem to be a fair number of heels dug in. If the measure voted on by the House passes the Senate, then we need to wait for a Pentagon report to come through.  It seems the closer we get the more games are being played.

I remember when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” went into effect seventeen years ago.  I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing.  The convoluted compromise to the outright ban on bisexuals, gay men and lesbians in the military sounded more like Ionesco than sound, mature defense policy.   You must be joking, I remember thinking.  No, they weren’t joking, using irony or displaying one iota of wit.  The government was as earnest as ever.

As a nation we have been going back and forth over DADT since then.  I find it a sign of progress that former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell has changed his mind on the issue.  The current Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, is also in favor of repeal.  Have we finally understood the many costs of this policy?  Some 13,000 women and men have been discharged from the Armed Forces and we have lost some $1.3 billion in training as blogger Megan McDonald Scanlon notes in “The Hidden Costs of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’” at thehill.com.

We have highly qualified personnel who are willing to fight and put their lives on the line for the United States.  We are in the middle of two wars, as well as a continuing economic downturn and worsening environmental degradation to name just two other pressing matters.  We should already have joined all the other nations which do not measure the competency of their soldiers by their sexuality.

In spite of all the people of good will trying to move us forward on this matter, I find it disturbing that we have been so slow integrate bisexuals, lesbians and gay men into the military — among other areas.

What is it in the national character that makes us so resistant to change?  What makes us so unwilling to take the decisive steps necessary and instead plod along with the more level-headed among us trying to do a delicate dance?

It seems rather disrespectful not only to BGLT service members but all members of the Armed Forces.  Let’s so some respect for our military women and men by closing this matter once and for all so we can attend to the critical issues facing them and our society today.

Figuring Out Obama and DOMA

Is the whole BLGT community up in arms about President Barack Obama’s position about DOMA? Read our Op-Ed from our Blogger Mizz.

obamaWhen I heard that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I was surprised, but then I’d read somewhere that there was a legal reason they had to defend it for now. Then I actually read the defense, and along with a lot of the BTLG community, I was shocked. Had President Obama just thrown us under a bus after all the promises he made? Did he have a hand in writing this? Did he know about it? Did someone else write it to make him look bad? I didn’t know what to think. The brief seemed rather passionate in its defense and even seemed to recall some of the stereotypes about BTLG people (a connection to pedophilia, etc.) and going so far as to say DOMA is good for the economy. Many activists began calling for Obama’s head, saying he’d betrayed us. Several are pulling out of DNC fundraisers, and not supporting the Democratic Party anymore. Not long after Obama gave some legal benefits to same-sex partners of government workers; and he has promised to do more, and recently some BTLG activists (including Bi activist Robyn Ochs!) were invited to the White House to talk with him. However, many are saying that it’s “too little too late”, that we “wasted our time with him” and that we “never should have voted for him”. While I too was dismayed, I’d like to ask one question: “Would we be better off if the opposition had won last November?” The answer is a big fat NO. Somehow I doubt anyone would have been invited to the white house or even acknowledged. It could have been worse than the past eight years.

doma protestLet’s face it, this administration is the best we’re going to get, at least for now. While I can’t understand [DOMA] it was written as it was (if they had to defend it, they could have done so in a less inflammatory manner), there is progress on several other fronts-the inclusion of BTLG people, the government benefits, the invitations to the white house, the rumors about repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT – a trans-inclusive EDNA.

Let’s remember, that BTLG issues are not the only ones – when it comes to things like war and poverty, understandably, those will take a back seat. I don’t envy the president’s job — every group wants what they want NOW, you’re expected to fix everything immediately, and no matter what you do, someone will call for your head – sometimes literally. Plus some people hate you for nothing other than being black. You have to try and govern from the center. My personal opinion; if Obama was in on the writing of the brief, he probably figured he’d go ahead and throw a bone to the conservatives since for now, he had to defend DOMA anyway. I think it backfired. The right is going to hate him no matter what he does, and if he wants to throw them “bones”, it shouldn’t be at any community’s expense.

I’m ticked about the brief, but I also understand that when you are a politician in the position of the president — well, let’s just say you aren’t always going be able to keep all your promises, and yes, some things will have to take a backseat, at least temporarily. Then there’s the strong role religion plays in all this-the president is liberal but still religious, and is going to have pressure from several religious groups. To be fair, he’s been honest the whole time that he doesn’t support same-sex marriage because of religious reasons, so maybe supporting the “Defense of (heterosexual) marriage” shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise.

What’s odd is the contradiction between reaching out to the community, the language in the brief, and then reaching out again? As I said, perhaps it was some attempt at a bad concession. I don’t think anyone is really sure, and it’s immature to try and draw too many conclusions. The best thing to do is wait, take every opportunity given us when the administration does reach out, work on educating the public, be cautious about any DNC support, and to hope for the best. When the administration stops inviting our leaders over to the white house to talk, and/or starts behaving more like the previous administration-then I will really worry. For now, I am going to extend the benefit of the doubt, try and reserve judgment, continue with activism, and wait and see. If some in the community don’t agree with me, fine, that’s their prerogative. For the record, I don’t regret my vote at all last November — because I’ve seen work on several other issues — and as far as BTLG issues go — if the other side had won, we wouldn’t even be having this debate because there would be nothing to talk about.

Figuring Out Obama and DOMA

obamaIs the whole BLGT community up in arms about President Barack Obama’s position about DOMA? Read our Op-Ed from our Blogger Mizz.

When I heard that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I was surprised, but then I’d read somewhere that there was a legal reason they had to defend it for now. Then I actually read the defense, and along with a lot of the BTLG community, I was shocked. Had President Obama just thrown us under a bus after all the promises he made? Did he have a hand in writing this? Did he know about it? Did someone else write it to make him look bad? I didn’t know what to think. The brief seemed rather passionate in its defense and even seemed to recall some of the stereotypes about BTLG people (a connection to pedophilia, etc.) and going so far as to say DOMA is good for the economy. Many activists began calling for Obama’s head, saying he’d betrayed us. Several are pulling out of DNC fundraisers, and not supporting the Democratic Party anymore. Not long after Obama gave some legal benefits to same-sex partners of government workers; and he has promised to do more, and recently some BTLG activists (including Bi activist Robyn Ochs!) were invited to the White House to talk with him. However, many are saying that it’s “too little too late”, that we “wasted our time with him” and that we “never should have voted for him”. While I too was dismayed, I’d like to ask one question: “Would we be better off if the opposition had won last November?” The answer is a big fat NO. Somehow I doubt anyone would have been invited to the white house or even acknowledged. It could have been worse than the past eight years.

Let’s face it, this administration is the best we’re going to get, at least for now. While I can’t understand [DOMA] it was written as it was (if they had to defend it, they could have done so in a less inflammatory manner), there is progress on several other fronts-the inclusion of BTLG people, the government benefits, the invitations to the white house, the rumors about repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT – a trans-inclusive EDNA.

Let’s remember, that BTLG issues are not the only ones – when it comes to things like war and poverty, understandably, those will take a back seat. I don’t envy the president’s job — every group wants what they want NOW, you’re expected to fix everything immediately, and no matter what you do, someone will call for your head – sometimes literally. Plus some people hate you for nothing other than being black. You have to try and govern from the center. My personal opinion; if Obama was in on the writing of the brief, he probably figured he’d go ahead and throw a bone to the conservatives since for now, he had to defend DOMA anyway. I think it backfired. The right is going to hate him no matter what he does, and if he wants to throw them “bones”, it shouldn’t be at any community’s expense.

I’m ticked about the brief, but I also understand that when you are a politician in the position of the president — well, let’s just say you aren’t always going be able to keep all your promises, and yes, some things will have to take a backseat, at least temporarily. Then there’s the strong role religion plays in all this-the president is liberal but still religious, and is going to have pressure from several religious groups. To be fair, he’s been honest the whole time that he doesn’t support same-sex marriage because of religious reasons, so maybe supporting the “Defense of (heterosexual) marriage” shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise.

What’s odd is the contradiction between reaching out to the community, the language in the brief, and then reaching out again? As I said, perhaps it was some attempt at a bad concession. I don’t think anyone is really sure, and it’s immature to try and draw too many conclusions. The best thing to do is wait, take every opportunity given us when the administration does reach out, work on educating the public, be cautious about any DNC support, and to hope for the best. When the administration stops inviting our leaders over to the white house to talk, and/or starts behaving more like the previous administration-then I will really worry. For now, I am going to extend the benefit of the doubt, try and reserve judgment, continue with activism, and wait and see. If some in the community don’t agree with me, fine, that’s their prerogative. For the record, I don’t regret my vote at all last November — because I’ve seen work on several other issues — and as far as BTLG issues go — if the other side had won, we wouldn’t even be having this debate because there would be nothing to talk about.