Political Notebook: Naming of DADT repeal bill sought for SF gay vets
by Matthew S. Bajko
It is one of the highest honors Congress can bestow upon a person, naming a major piece of legislation after them. So it should come as no surprise that efforts have been made to see that the bill repealing the military's anti-gay policy barring gays and lesbians from serving openly honors an out veteran.
Since the spring San Francisco native Allen Jones has tried to convince several senators, including Dianne Feinstein (D-California), as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) to name the repeal of the policy, known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," after Oliver Sipple. A United States Marine and Vietnam War veteran, Sipple saved President Gerald Ford from an assassination attempt during his visit to San Francisco on September 22, 1975.
Harvey Milk, himself a veteran and a leader at the time of the city's gay rights movement, outed Sipple to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, who ran with the story. Sipple was not out to his family and his parents disowned him, for a time, following the national media frenzy that resulted from Caen's piece.
Dubbed an "accidental hero" by the press, Sipple died from pneumonia at the age of 47 on February 2, 1989. He never received a face-to-face meeting with Ford, who did send him a thank you note.
To this day, Jones said he feels Sipple, whom he never met, is still owed better by his country. Naming the DADT repeal legislation would be a start, said Jones.
"There are so many that could be honored. The reason I picked Oliver Sipple is because of the way he was treated just for being gay in 1975, where his own parents and hometown turned their back on him," said Jones, 45, who refers to himself as homosexual. "Saving the president of the United States, that is no small feat. I am saying it is a cut above over other decorated veterans. Connect that with the way he was treated after he saved the life of the president 35 years ago, of people not giving this guy any real respect for what he did as just a normal person, it deserves some sort of recognition."
Jones said his entreaties have so far gone nowhere. He did get an e-mail reply from Feinstein's office that did not address his suggestion of naming the bill after Sipple but did note the senator is a co-sponsor of the legislation, which is officially titled the Military Readiness Enhancement Act.
Jones isn't the only San Franciscan who has pushed to see DADT repeal honor a local gay military hero. Michael Bedwell has tried in vain for two years to enlist the support of national LGBT groups to have the legislation be named after his friend and onetime roommate Leonard Matlovich.
A decorated member of the United States Air Force, Matlovich became the face of the military's anti-gay stance when he appeared on the cover of Time magazine in September 1975 underneath the headline "I Am A Homosexual." The onetime Castro resident had sued following his being kicked out of the military for being gay.
His out-of-court settlement resulted in gay service members being honorably discharged rather than being dismissed dishonorably. Matlovich died of AIDS in 1988 one month shy of his 45th birthday and is buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington.
"Sipple deserves some type of honor, I unquestionably support that. But he was not a functional victim of the ban," said Bedwell, who maintains a list of famous LGBT veterans at the website http://www.leonardmatlovich.com. "It should be named after somebody who ran smack into the ban."
Bedwell likened the naming of the DADT bill to that of the hate crimes bill, which honored gay Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard, who was beaten and left for dead by his attackers. Having a person and their story attached to the DADT repeal measure could help get it passed, argued Bedwell.
"Lots of gays were killed in gay bashings after Matthew Shepard but he was the person the public most identified gay bashings with so his name was attached to the hate crimes bill," said Bedwell. "Every time we said we want you to vote for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill, it would trigger in people's mind this story, a face to the issue so it was not something abstract ... One of our biggest obstacles is personalizing all of our rights to the non-gay public."
Not everyone agrees the bill needs a name attached to it. Openly gay San Francisco Veterans Affairs Commissioner John Caldera , who served in the Navy, said he doesn't care if the bill honors an LGBT veteran.
"Who you name the bill after really means nothing to me," said Caldera. "Who they name it after really is a waste of energy. Getting rid of it is the priority."
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, an LGBT advocacy group, noted that there have been many people floated as deserving of having their name attached to the DADT repeal bill, including lesbian National Guard Chief Nurse Colonel Grethe Cammermeyer, who successfully challenged her dismissal under DADT in court.
Because of the numerous suggestions, it would be impossible to find consensus around one name, wrote Nicholson in an e-mail response.
"Bottom line is that there are WAY too many people on this issue who could qualify, so I don't think it will be named for anyone. In fact, naming it after one person would be a huge slight to many more," wrote Nicholson. "It's not like there is any one case here that really propelled the issue forward all on its own, which is usually the qualification for naming a bill after someone."
It remains to be seen if the Senate will be able to repeal DADT as part of a military reauthorization package during the lame-duck session later this month. The House passed it earlier this year, and this week the White House signaled it wants to see DADT repeal included in the legislation Congress sends it.
Should the policy remain in effect and the legislation be punted to the next Congress, then Bedwell said he will continue to advocate for an out gay veteran's name be attached to it.
"As far as going forward, if it does fail in the lame-duck session, which I think it will, and someone has the grit to reintroduce it either as a stand alone bill, which it originally was, or as an amendment to the Defense authorization, I would certainly lobby again for it being Leonard's name," said Bedwell. "But the more important thing is it be somebody's name added to it. Again, just like Matthew Shepard, every time the name is mentioned it subconsciously communicates to the listener the personal story of a victim of the ban that makes no sense."
Nava rules out second run for judge
Openly gay attorney Michael Nava , who lost his bid for a seat on the San Francisco Superior Court last week, has ruled out a second stab at running for judge.
In an e-mail to supporters a day after the Tuesday, November 2 election, the celebrated crime novelist wrote that he did not intend to launch another campaign to be elected to the bench.
"I will not run for office again but I will look for other ways to be of service," wrote Nava.
After coming in first place in the three-person primary race in June, Nava landed in second place in the runoff election last week. According to the latest unofficial returns, he received 80,959 votes or 46.64 percent. Judge Richard Ulmer held on to his seat 15 on the court with 92,622 or 53.36 percent.
Had he won, Nava would have been the first out gay Latino to win a judicial race in the state. And his loss is all the more a stinging defeat for the fact that if another gay attorney, Daniel Dean , had not gotten into the primary race, Nava likely would have won the seat outright five months ago.
In the end, the soft-spoken and bookish Nava admitted that he was not up to the task of seeking out votes on the campaign trail. But the experience did draw him out of his shell, he told supporters.
"I started this race as an introverted intellectual, more comfortable with his books and thoughts than with other people, but this election drew me out into my communities in a way that has changed me – I will never be a back-slapper but I feel a greater ease and empathy with people than I did before," wrote Nava.
He added that he does not see his defeat as a personal disappointment because he still has the "life I had before I ran, filled with wonderful friends, a loving partner, and the great gift of intellectual curiosity."
He wrote that he is upset he could not be victorious for the people who backed him in the race over the near unanimous opposition of the local judiciary.
"I hoped to win for my communities, LGBT and Latino/a, and for all of us who have felt disenfranchised and disrespected by the powers-that-be. So I am sorry I could not win for you. And I am grateful and humbled by the expressions of support and love I received during the campaign," wrote Nava.
Nonetheless, Nava proved to be a strong judicial candidate and could still find himself serving on the bench. With the election of a Democratic governor, Nava may just be appointed to fill a vacancy on the superior court, or perhaps an appellate court, after Jerry Brown takes office in January.
Meko honored for his work
Another electoral loser last week has been named a winner by the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services.
Openly gay Entertainment Commissioner Jim Meko , who came up short in his bid for District 6 supervisor, will receive the 2010 Neighborhood Empowerment Network award for lifetime achievement. In addition to helping oversee the city's nightlife, Meko has long been involved in planning issues in the South of Market neighborhood.
Meko and the other NEN Award winners this year will be feted at a November 17 ceremony at San Francisco City Hall. The free event is open to the public and will take place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. in the North Light Court.
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings around 10 a.m. for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reports on how Central Valley gay candidates fared in last week's election.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail email@example.com.