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View Article  John Kerr, soldier

Like many veterans, my grandfather remained intensely private about his military experiences. My childhood memories are limited to stories handed down from my father and the only fear I ever saw in John's eyes -- when the fireworks exploded on the 4th of July. He would try, but always failed to remain outside. Even as a pool drenched six year old shivering under a beach towel, my excitement about the festivities was dampened by that look and his eventual retreat inside. 

John grew up to work in the steel mill. It was his destiny as surely as the four generations of mill workers who had come before, to continue the legacy of the Industrial Revolution.  He went into the mills in 1932 after graduating high school and started a family. 

Then, in 1942, he was drafted into the US Army Air Force 305th Signal Division Company.  (I may have the wording wrong b/c of conflicting documents.) He did his basic training and eventually ended up in the Philippines and then ... well I'll get to that.  He was a radio man, a fascination that stayed with him throughout his life. Always a transistor radio at his side. 

The few things I know either from family lore or his discharge papers.

- He survived a tsunami in the Philippines.  It just reminded me that he went to the beach every year, but never swam. Hmmm. His records don't list this stop along the way, but my father assures me he somehow ended up there.

- He was sent to Puerto Rico and then Okinawa.  Yes. I know what that means. 

- He was on Ie Shima when the Japanese formally surrendered.  We have some photos (I can't post them b/c they are somewhat racist) of the surrender. 

- He earned a Good Conduct Medal, American Theater Service Medal and Asiatic Pacific Medal.

I also have letters, dozens of letters he wrote to my grandmother from 1942, throughout his years overseas and ending with his last six months of service when we was stationed in New York. Her letters are lost to history, but I think she saved every scrap. Cards, notices about financial matters, post cards, military camp PR materials and memorabilia from her trip to visit him in San Francisco.

In the letters, he makes very little reference to anything military related except for mundane things like laundry, food and the boredom he experienced. A few times, he apologized for interruptions due to "being in the field" or away from paper and pen.  The overwhelming emotion in the letters is loneliness. While stateside, he describes going out with friends and the occasional homecooked meal from a friend's wife. Once he left the US, it was all about a craving to recreate the every day lives of his family through written word. 

This is what remains of his military service.

Once he was home, that was it. Obviously, he shared some with my father and I believe his brother, our Uncle Jimmy, had some stories to tell as well.  Jimmy was in Africa and Europe flying airplanes.  That's an entirely different story.

I really don't know much about the military history prior to the WW II generations. My great-grandfathers and great-great uncles signed up for the draft for WW I, but I've no evidence they were ever called up.  One great-great uncle disappeared, so I assume the worst. My aunt's husband was in the Navy. HIS uncle was a fighter pilot for Kaiser Wilhelm II and left Germany before WW II, eventually settling in Canada. My great-uncle worked on the Manhattan Project (allegedly). My uncles both served in Korea, but also never speak of it. My father went to sign up for the draft for Vietnam, spoke fluent French and was turned down for medical reasons (Thank God).  Since then, no one in our family has enlisted, at least in my immediate family. We do have a slew of engineers who work on all sorts of projects they can't discuss, but who knows why?

I'll never know the experiences my grandfather had. I'll never know what it was like for him to live with the memories, good and bad.  I'll never know what he would think of desegregation, women enlisting and things like DADT.  None of that really matters.  He did what he was asked to do.  Then he came home and did what he needed to do.  The every day story of men all over the world whom we remember, along with their fallen comrades, on this day.

John and his sister Diddy on Decoration Day 1942 (now known as Memorial Day)

History is filled with accounts of heroic actions, daring escapades and sacrifices. It is important that we remember the everyday women and men whose quiet sacrifices are oft overlooked.

The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected- Sun Tzu, the Art of War


View Article  A little more on GetEqual and activism in PA

From Pam's House Blend, a guest post on the increasing presence of GetEqual in the LGBTQ advocacy/activist scene. 

Distraught by recent delays, LGBT activists turn to civil disobedience to encourage the passage of the Employment Non Discrimination and repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell".  Groups like GetEQUAL are making their voices known though direct actions like chaining themselves to fences, organizing sit-ins at congressional offices, and interrupting political speeches with calls from the audience.

Some believe these actions and the increasing visibility of the community's discontent played a role in the House vote on DADT. 

Now they've turned attention to visibility around ENDA.  Recently, GetEqual organizer Kip Williams disrupted a speech by President Obama to show that not everyone in the LGBTQ community is willing to patiently wait for leadership.  The President was not amused and continues to cover his lack of leadership by deflecting attention to the "real" opponents.  This redirection is not unfamiliar here in Southwestern PA, but that's a topic for another post.

Such direction action by individuals are not without precedent.  From the Washington Post

Nineteen-year-old Mark Segal became angry when he and a male friend were thrown out of a television dance program one August afternoon in 1972 after the program's host saw them dancing together. In retaliation, Segal barged into the studio of Philadelphia's WPVI a few days later during its evening newscast. Startled studio personnel wrestled him to the floor, tied his hands with a microphone cable and called the police.

Segal became a walking terror with his "zaps," as they were called. In 1973, his targets included "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" and "The Mike Douglas Show." He and a friend staged their last and most notorious zap when they posed as college students and obtained passes for the "CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite." Midway through the broadcast on Dec. 11, 1973, as Cronkite began a story about Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Segal darted in front of the camera with a sign reading "Gays Protest CBS Prejudice."

My favorite part:

Cronkite may have been more startled when Segal's attorney tried to serve him with a subpoena to testify. After CBS attorneys blocked repeated attempts to deliver the document, Segal's lawyer informed the network of a little-used New York law that made photocopies of a subpoena as valid as an original. He threatened to make copies available to the Hells Angels, with a reward for anyone who served the subpoena. Faced with the prospect of having Cronkite stalked by gay activists and bikers, CBS lawyers relented.

The tactics worked.  Segal had a face to face with Cronkite to explain how CBS News was censoring the increasing gay activism.  Cronkite paved the way for on-air coverage and Segal went on to found The Philadelphia Gay News

Hmmm. The argument against direct action as a viable tactic has not only historically, but currently proven wrong.  Segal has gone on to play a significant role increasing the visibility of the LGBTQ community in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania.

Impact on the legislative process requires a multitude of tactics from letter writing to direct action. It is all about visibility. The emergence of groups like Get Equal demonstrates our potential to delve into the rich history of LGBTQ activism to tackle issues like DADT and ENDA. 

I do need to point out that what we are missing in Pennsylvania is that activist/direct action middle link. I've written recently about the workings of the insider/Alist advocates who have embedded themselves into the system and work for change from within.  I've also written about the tactics of groups like Bash Back who are at the other end of the spectrum. What's missing is the visibility of those in between -- those who are losing patience and seeking leadership to openly channel that frustration and disillusionment. 

Telling us "I've got it" isn't enough.  Vandalizing property out of anger with the system is also not working. I believe neither approach resonates with the average LGBTQ person without the in between, the actions that connect with our lives and our experiences. 

In my case, I experience the tension of the in between most days. I don't trust those who say they've got it because the results of that approach are not changing lives or meeting the promises of the politicians making the decisions. I am dismayed when people believe the damage to property has any positive impact other than to announce they are angry. 

Finding the leadership for the in between is the key. 

The old joke is that Pittsburgh is 20 years behind the curve in most trends.  Let's hope the slight forward momentum finds inspiration from the national scene to defy those odds.


View Article  Bash Back - Latest Pittsburgh Actions

Bash Back, a radical transfolk/queer group, has had two recent actions in Pittsburgh.  One involved an evangelical church that promises to cure homosexuality.  The other involved our favorite bakery, Peace Love and Little Donuts. You recall a recent favorable review published in Cue Pittsburgh?  Here's the response from people who care about these things.

In the May issue of Cue Magazine- a local mainstream GLBT magazine- a favorable article was printed about PLLD and Razete?s business. The author of the magazine apologized profusely when contacted and said he had no idea about the shop?s owner- showing that more visibility is needed. He plans to write a follow-up article that will show more truths about Razette?s character. But for local queers, this was another conniving move by Razette to use queer communities to obtain more capital.

In response, queers revisited his shop in May 2010. His locks were glued and ?QUEERS BASH BACK (A)? was painted in large letters covering the front of his shop. Businesses run by queer bashers will continue to be exposed in our city, especially when they use queer communities here to further their capitalist agenda.

Now, I am not in favor of vandalism.  I don't think its constructive, but I also think the mainstream community's refusal to explore the underlying anger and engage the participants is equally not constructive.  We just go round and round. 

The unknown factor at this point is whether Cue Pittsburgh will print the retraction or the promised follow up article. It did not appear in the June issue.

From Facebook:


Do the readers of Cue care enough to raise their own ruckus?  More to the point, do they care enough to stop buying the damn donuts?

Speaking of caring, I am searching for info on the promised meeting with City Council regarding the gay bashing incidents in Bloomfield. I've been encouraging elected officials to get off Grant Street and meet queer folks out in the community to ensure they have information (and solutions?) from diverse points of view.  I'm hoping they respond soon. 

Stay tuned.


View Article  Pride!

Gosh, I've been so caught up in DADT, work and wrestling with my bike that I haven't given very much attention to Pittsburgh PrideFest. 

It is right around the corner. 

This coming week, we'll see a political rally with Cleve Jones, the Dyke March and the GLENDA Diva's for Diversity.

The official pride site.

The official Pride Guide 2010. I like that its up now so you can check it out before the event. 

Perspective?  Moscow Pride is thrilled they managed to march for five to ten minutes.  Pride is illegal in Moscow.

Love, love the guy using his smart phone while marching!  Such a me thing to do.  I usually live tweet the Dyke March and inevitably trip over something. 

I'm curious which politicians show up.  Onorato, I'm betting.  Sestak, I'm hoping (especially because protocol dictates he goes first, eh?).  State folks are trickier because "GET THE BUDGET DONE"  Ahem. 

Any thoughts?

View Article  The question about Adam Ravenstahl ...

will he have an office with a working phone?  Does ALCOSAN provide email addresses?

The PG on the Peduto and Shields letter to various Ethics Boards.  Maria weighs in here.

View Article  Trib on DADT repeal - At least they quote PA Congressman Patrick Murphy

The Trib ...weighing in on Congressional vote to authorize DADT repeal. 

During an all-day House debate on the bill approving more than $700 billion in spending for defense programs, Republicans repeated statements by military service chiefs that Congress should not act before the Pentagon completes a study on the impact of a repeal.

Congress going first "is the equivalent to turning to our men and women in uniform and their families and saying, 'Your opinion, your view, do not count,'" said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

What we don't see is any commitment or promise from Republicans to support the repeal if the Pentagon report gives a thumb up.  Because they are counting on?

The chief sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., who served in the Iraq War, said that when he was in Baghdad "my teams did not care whether a fellow soldier was straight or gay if they could fire their assault rifle or run a convoy down ambush alley and do their job so everyone would come home safely."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said that of the 13,500 members of the military who have been discharged under "don't ask, don't tell," more than 1,000 filled critical occupations, such as engineers and interpreters.

Once again it seems the personal bigotries of homophobic soldiers carry more weight than the best interests of the nation's defense. 

So we wait to see (assuming the Senate takes action) how these "what the Pentagon report finds" folks respond if that report creates a reasonable implementaton process.  Hmmm.

View Article  New York Times on impact of repealing DADT

Always interesting to see which NYT pieces that PG picks up ...

Today they chose to look at the practical implementation of openly LGBTQ soldiers, especially morale. Opinions vary from shrugs (since its already happening) to concern about backlash and harassment to the ever-present rhetoric about destroying anti-gay, homophobic rights to hold those opinions (aka losing their religion.

Why Keith? Why does it threaten you so to deal with reality?

View Article  DADT Repeal Pick a camp

From Pam's House Blend.

1) The don't-know-enoughs: They only get information in drips and drabs, so they have no idea of the details of the votes or the compromise.  They believe it's repealed, the discharges stop ASAP; some are open to receiving more info to clarify their view. Others find a boatload of information just too taxing to deal with right now...Glee is on the DVR. Next topic...

2) The "it's all a lie" crowd: The compromise is a complete sham and betrayal of those serving in silence. Anything coming out of the press releases lauding the vote is skimming over the ugly truth. The MSM is making it all worse, and there's anger about how easily the progressives are fooled and don't dig deep to see the injustice that will continue. You can't trust the orgs, the admin, the Pentagon or Congress. A vein might explode. 3) The "rose-colored glasses" peeps: This is the start of something good, DADT repeal was rescued from a certain death; the Obama admin and the Pentagon will do right by those in the closet in the military in short order (as in before 2010 ends). They don't like to hear criticism about the process, the LGBT groups, the Admin, or Congress. Criticism is not useful; it's all about calling your representatives on the Hill alone as the best course of action. There is no back-channel political activity or political infighting  to consider that affects the process.

4) The cross-fingered pragmatists: The people who thought this was going to be totally FUBAR, but realized that in the late stages of the game, this was the best option we had and it's really not a good one at all for those directly affected by DADT. They believe that the system worked, albeit imperfectly, and that all parties -- the LGBT groups, the activists, Congress and the WH did what they thought was right to get it done.

5) The "system is broken" people: These folks are convinced that this whole process was screwed, and if ENDA is to have any chance of success, the whole LGBT establishment needs to take a hard look at what did and didn't work in this process. The messy end result didn't have to be that way, and it's clear that the Beltway process of achieving results is too laden in personal politics that supplant the larger goal of civil equality. These folks, however, don't exactly have a plan on how to fix it.

6) The everyone else-is-a-black-and-white-thinker crowd: These folks are the shoot-first, think-later people who believe they alone are capable of nuanced thinking and are filled with political sophistication. Other people are incapable of this of course, and are stuck in one mode of thinking without consideration of shades of gray in an issue. The everyone else-is-a-black-and-white-thinker person already knows what you might have to say about an issue, even to the point of ignoring actual statements that don't fit their perceived mode. So this results in endless threads/tweets of irrelevant discussion.

Where do you fit in? You may straddle a couple, or change from moment to moment.

Hmmm. I've seen many local Pgh folks celebrating the *repeal* of DADT with no indication that they grasp exactly what the amendment language means. Others celebrate the small step of progress.  No real local backlash thus far, at least not online. 

Some of these dynamics play out with regard to the LGBT advocacy in Western PA. I think people are pretty comfortable acknowledging there are backroom politics at play; they just want to cultivate a sense of loyalty among those who don't have access and take some personal offense when they aren't believed about what happens behind those closed doors.  I also think we have a lot of folks who "opt out" and that doesn't help. 

This indicates that part of the system that is broken is the LGBT advocacy system itself.  There's a lot of power concentrated in a few hands with little opportunity for participation or dissent. Long gone are the days when someone took the (open) mike at Pridefest to challenge the status quo or the powers that be. 

Still, there is something to be said for engaging people in terms of outreach to their elected officials, so I'm sort of straddling the idea that people need to engage within the system AND create more transparency to connect with people who are disengaged.  How that gels given an emerging LGBT political power base that mimics the old-school SW Pennsylvania Jurassic political system ... anybody's guess. 

Getting back to DADT, this is progress, but progress that we need to keep in perspective.  John Aravois from AMERICAblog has this to say.

If I thought this compromise were the end of the world, I'd say so. I'm not happy with the compromise, to be sure, and I'm not happy that the President chose half a loaf instead of just lifting the ban now and being done with it. But I do see a path forward under this compromise. And I see no chance whatsoever if we reject it.

That is why I say that, on balance, this compromise does more good than bad, and is certainly better than the alternative - doing nothing.


View Article  Presidential Proclamation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, 2010


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

May 28, 2010


View Article  House Votes to Authorize Repeal DADT; Western PA's Critz votes against repeal

Bear in mind that this vote does not repeal the ban on openly LGBT men and women serving in the military.  The policy is still in effect.  It does start the ball rolling, but it could realistically be several years until the ban is lifted.  It could also remain in place. So proceed with caution.

Good call on the part of Steel City Stonewall Democrats to keep Critz off the slate.  He voted no on the repeal.

Critz?s surprisingly comfortable special election victory over Republican Tim Burns is attributable at least in part to the fact he positioned himself as opposed to many of President Obama?s policies. Opposing them on his first major vote in Congress is a signal to voters he doesn?t plan to break that promise. It also doesn?t give Burns any potential ammunition when the two tangle once again in the general election.

The Pennsylvania delegation voted along party lines otherwise.

Well, he did make it pretty clear he was not a liberal. 

More later on how the gay community is sorting itself out in response to this "progress." This is a pivotal moment, but we may disagree on why.

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