Friday, December 23, 2011

The 2011 Gay Picture of the Year

Congratulations to Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta, serving on the USS Oak Hill, and her partner, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell. The ship has just returned to Virginia following an 80-day deployment, and Gaeta won the raffle to give the first homecoming kiss. Snell is stationed on the USS Bainbridge. They met shortly after boot camp, and they've been together for two years. This is the first time a same-sex couple has had the honor of the first kiss.

Bilerico has named this image its 2011 Gay Picture of the Year.

I love, love, love this picture! 

In search of "Reel Injun"

So anyway, I was looking for something to pass some time, and while I was nosing around Netflix I happened upon "Reel Injun," a documentary exploring the depiction of Native Americans in film. The movie is the work of Neil Diamond (no, not that Neil Diamond), a Canadian member of the Cree Nation.

Right off the bat, Diamond won me over when he said he would need a "rez car" for his cross-country quest in search of Indians on film. I couldn't help but remember my time working on the Navajo Nation where many houses, cars, fences, and pretty much everything else were held together with baling wire and duct tape. You make do with what you've got.

(The mother in me does say, though, that it's damn crazy to trust a rez car to take you thousands of miles. We had a rez car for short time, and ours couldn't even get us from Window Rock to Gallup. Just saying.)
Filmmaker Neil Diamond and his rez car

At any rate, Reel Injun is a study of Native Americans on film, beginning at the turn of the 20th century when movie technology was brand new.  Diamond weaves a rich tapestry through liberal use of movie clips and interviews with prominent actors, writers, and activists.

Although the film is thick with dialogue, Diamond does occasionally use silence (or, more accurately, the strategic lack of narration) to make a point. For instance, one scene involves a boys' summer camp that claims to be based on Native American culture. Once the context is explained, Diamond turns the camera on the boys for several minutes but provides no commentary, so we're left to reach our own conclusions. Here's mine: the boys and the staff did an excellent job mimicking obnoxious, unruly football fans, and I felt like I should be doing something about it.

Diamond's strategic silence, however, almost lost me in one particularly disturbing scene. He visits a rez classroom of second or third graders and has the teacher show them a massacre scene from either Dances with Wolves. or Little Big Man (sorry, I don't remember which). His point: many Indian kids nowadays have never been exposed to these brutal images. As we hear the audio from the scene in the background, Diamond focuses, without commentary, on close-ups of the children's faces as they watch. While none of the kids seemed visibly shocked, all looked troubled and transfixed. I understand what Diamond was after, but the idea of purposely traumatizing small children is nearly as horrifying as the footage they were watching. I sure hope those kids got some help processing what they saw.

Other than that, the film's flaws are minor. For example, he could have made clearer the route he took on his cross-country journey. In addition, I would have liked to hear more about his story, rather than the heavy emphasis on the interviewees. That, of course, is simply a matter of personal taste, but a greater blending of his quest with the subject matter might have provided more depth and color.

Since I love a happy ending, I was gratified that Diamond showcased films made by indigenous people for indigenous people. Diamond focused on two films: Smoke Signals and Fast Runner.  I've seen the former and enjoyed it; I look forward to seeing the latter.
Oh, but above all, there was that golden moment when I just about melted: For a couple seconds, a little house appeared onscreen accompanied by the caption, "Navajo, New Mexico." Navajo is a town of less than 3,000 people, close to where we lived. My kid attend daycare in Navajo for about three years, beginning when she was just a year old. We still treasure the Pendleton blankets the staff gave us when we moved away -- one for me, one for her dad, and one kid-sized blanket for my daughter. Fond memories, indeed.

Anyway, I recommend Reel Injun, which you can view via Netflix's instant queue. In the meantime, I will contemplate the exquisite landscape of the Navajo Nation, which tugs at me still.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Sweet dreams, Harry Morgan.

The venerable Harry Morgan, 96, passed away at his home yesterday morning. If you watched television any time between 1960 and 1983 ever, you saw his work. He was best known for his parts in Dragnet and M*A*S*H, but he was pretty much everywhere. This clip from The Jack Benny Show demonstrates his ability to make any line funny.

Lucky us, that he was in our midst for nearly a century.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

I want Hillary Clinton for Chanukah.

If you haven't heard Hillary Clinton's historic United Nations speech on LGBT rights, I hope you'll take the time to listen. I felt moved and empowered as I watched Clinton speak out for equal rights in her official capacity as Secretary of State. Thirty minutes, very well spent.


Oh, yes. Time marches forward.

I'm very pleased to report that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled unanimously in favor of Vandy Beth Glenn, the woman who was fired from the Georgia legislature after she announced her intention to transition from male to female. Here's the opinion.

Ms. Glenn worked as an attorney/editor for the Georgia General Assembly's Office of Legal Counsel ("OLC").When she was hired in 2005, she still lived as a man, but that year she began transitioning; and she began living as a woman outside of work. In 2006, she informed her supervisor of her intention to transition fully, and in 2007, she informed her supervisor that she would now be living full time as a woman.

Sewell Brumby, head of the OLC, was not pleased by this news, and he fired Ms. Glenn, stating that
her "intended gender transition was inappropriate, that it would be disruptive, that some people would view it as a moral issue, and that it would make Glenn’s coworkers uncomfortable." (slip op. at 4).

Ms. Glenn sued in federal court, alleging that Brumby discriminated against her because of her sex (specifically, for her failure to conform to male stereotypes concerning clothing) in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The district (trial) court granted Ms. Glenn summary judgment on the sex-discrimination cause of action (Ms. Glenn had also alleged she was denied equal protection because of her medical diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder, but the court ruled against her with regard to that issue).

On appeal, the circuit court found that "discrimination against a transgender individual because of her gender non-conformity is sex discrimination," noting a split among circuits. (id. at 9). The court went on:
discrimination on this basis is a form of sex-based discrimination that is subject to heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. Ever since the Supreme Court began to apply heightened scrutiny to sex-based classifications, its consistent purpose has been to eliminate discrimination on the basis of gender stereotypes.
And then, just in case there is still any doubt:  "We conclude that a government agent violates the Equal Protection Clause’s prohibition of sex-based discrimination when he or she fires a transgender or transsexual employee because of his or her gender non-conformity." (slip op. at 16).

Applying the "heightened scrutiny" standard for determining liability for such discrimination,  the court then concluded that Brumby's termination of Ms. Glenn was not substantially related to any sufficiently important governmental interest. On the contrary, her termination was based on Brumby's assertion that transitioning was "unnatural" and "unsettling." In the end, then, the court found that Ms. Glenn was entitled to "all the relief that she seeks."

So kudos to Ms. Glenn, and the other folks on the front lines. It's because of her courageous actions, and the actions of others like her, that the LGBTQ community is making steady legal headway, one small step -- and one precedent -- at a time