Friday, September 16, 2011

Finally. The Freedom to Serve.

On Tues., Sept. 20, 2011, after 18 years of government mandated employment discrimination and more than 14,500 discharges, the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy will officially expire.  Brave and strong gay and lesbian servicemembers who help protect their nation and its citizens will no longer be subject to discharge on the basis of their sexual orientation and will no longer be forced to serve in silence.

The repeal of this discriminatory and disrespectful ban is a victory that has taken decades to secure; hundreds of thousands of letters/calls, protests and donations, and scores of organizations and elected officials have taken up this struggle. It has taken all of us, and each and every effort to get to this day.

Because this marks the realization of a dream held and fought for by so many, because this is a victory that has taken decades to secure, because we rarely get to realize such monumental victories in our lifetimes, and because it finally frees some of our best, brightest, proudest community members, we are honor bound to mark this day in history!

On Sept. 20, The Center and the co-sponsoring partners will host a special “Freedom to Serve” event from 6-7 pm at The Center, 3909 Centre St., 92103. We will have the opportunity to hear from servicemembers who have suffered for decades, who are now free to serve! All who want to celebrate with them and for them are welcome and invited!

Even though it’s clear this isn’t the end of our work on matters of equality or even basic justice for our Trans community members, something that has taken decades to achieve is certainly worth taking a moment to recognize, particularly since our San Diego community has played such an important role in the elimination of this discriminatory policy.

By now, many of you have heard the story about the answering machine that began The Center almost forty years ago, the one that was housed in a closet (of all places). What you may not know is that many of the first calls to that now-famous answering machine were from gay men and lesbians who were serving in the military. Many of them were young, coming of age, often living away from home for the first time and frightened about being gay while serving their country in the military.

While living as an LGB person in the military in recent years under the cloud of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been unimaginably challenging, imagine what it must have been like for those who were struggling in 1973 – when being gay was still considered a mental illness, when you could be arrested for dancing with a person of the same sex and sodomy laws criminalized our lives.

Over the years, many of those callers and their friends from the San Diego community have gone on to form, support and serve in organizations dedicated to fighting for a change in policy, and to serve and support LGBT veterans. San Diego has been fortunate to have such incredible advocates in our midst. Many of our San Diego LGBT veterans and servicemembers have put up courageous fights – some began as far back as the 1950s, and others have carried forward that fight. Still others will continue this fight for full and equal benefits for service members and for the dignity our Trans community members also deserve. On Tuesday we salute their courage, their dedication and their victory.

We live in a military town, and even if we’ve never personally served in the military, many of our lives have been touched by the destructive impact of the military’s discriminatory policies against LGBT people.

Whether it’s partners who have had to stay hidden when their partners leave or return from long deployments, loved ones who’ve written letters using false names or just friends who had to help keep the secret, no matter what the particulars, too often we have had to watch our friends and loved ones suffer.

And now, after decades, many will no longer have to.

Co-Sponsoring Organizations
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN)
Human Rights Campaign (HRC)
Equality California (EQCA)
Get Equal
San Diego LGBT Community Center
San Diego LGBT Pride

After the Freedom to Serve event at The Center, the celebrations will continue with several local establishments offering military discounts, including Gossip Grill, Baja Betty’s, Urban Mo’s, Bamboo Lounge and Bourbon Street. For more information about the Freedom to Serve event, please contact Denise Serrano at or 619.692.2077 x103.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Passing of a Community Friend

Today we honor the passing of a friend.

On August 24th we lost a long-time supporter of our community, one of our dedicated Center board members, and a personal friend, John Laird. Today we offer our love, thoughts, prayers and support to his husband and life partner of 28 years, Aaron Borovoy.

For almost two weeks John has been in my thoughts. When I learned of his illness, the complications and his struggle, I was filled with sadness at the impending loss for all of us.

Today I’m flooded with memories that make me smile. I remember John’s indefatigable passion for his community and for his beloved Center, his generosity of spirit, his infectious laughter, his warm, bear-hug greetings for all, and his never-wavering commitment to including and welcoming all people in “his” community.

John was absolutely devoted to this community – it was his extended family. He was a Center volunteer and supporter for decades and a Center board member for 8 years. Both he and his husband Aaron committed their time and energy to making our community better, in a hundred small, everyday ways and in larger, more important ones. And they succeeded. The San Diego LGBT community and its organizations have been made richer and stronger because of the incredible volunteer leadership and activism both Aaron and John have offered. They remind us all of the lasting, powerful difference two people can make on the lives of thousands.

Today we feel the loss, mourn with his husband, family and friends, remember the laughter and extraordinary kindness… and wish John peace and rest.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Countdown Clocks and Wedding Bells – Celebrating Justice

There’s no doubt that the hours, days, weeks and years of struggle can become enraging, depressing and frustrating. The enormous amounts of time and treasure that we pour out attempting to achieve even basic fair treatment under the law can, on some days, be overwhelming.

But not on this day. Not today.

This day we celebrate two tremendous, historic and game-changing victories. This day we begin to mark the ending of some decades-old struggles.

Friday, President Obama, the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs signed and sent to Congress the Certification that our armed forces are ready and able to end decades of discrimination in the armed forces. And the 60-day clock started. On September 20, 2011 the discriminatory law that has forced lesbian and gay servicemembers to hide, struggle and suffer in silence will be repealed.

Done. Over. Now just a shameful chapter of history. As the clock ticks down the days, we’ll all be nervous; anxious that no last-minute, desperate acts of hate interfere. But we will also wait and count down with the growing sense that decades of activism, hope and courage are about to be rewarded with a historic victory. A new gay home decoration will be born: the framed copy of the front page of the New York Times headline that says: Repeal! Discrimination Dead!

And there’s more. Yesterday in the great state of New York, loving, dedicated gay and lesbian couples began to marry. Couples who have waited a lifetime to receive the basic dignity and recognition of their love and families that every human being deserves finally got to feel love win. Years of work, acts of bravery on both sides of the aisle, and thousands who have worked and held the hope can hear the bells ring. We celebrate with New York!

Does it mean all the battles are over? Of course not. Every Californian feels the bittersweet pain as they celebrate New York. It means that for a few short days we all get to remember that these days do come. That the values we represent -- freedom, dignity, compassion, fairness, service to country and to family, and equality -- do win.

Today is a celebration for all of us, not just a few. Today is a day when we remember that every email to an elected official, every Facebook post and re-post, every dollar we gave, every vote we cast for supportive candidates…it all mattered.

The struggles are painful and hard; the celebrations need to be equally intense, passionate, and hope-filled.

Join us at The Center tonight (Monday, July 25) at 6 pm to celebrate the certification of DADT repeal and the Countdown to Justice! In 57 days, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will finally be history. We’ll get the legal update from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and hear from some of our LGBT elected officials. And we’ll savor the moment surrounded by our servicemembers who have served so bravely in silence, our community, friends and allies. It’s a monumental step forward – let’s celebrate it!

In the meantime, SLDN is continuing to caution servicemembers not to come out until the 60 day countdown has passed. For more information on the legal issues,

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The First Time

LGBT Pride parades and festivals are a part of an American ritual.

In four days San Diego begins its version of what is now a nationally recognized tradition: LGBT Pride Weekend. While many communities have days that are cause for public celebrations, visible actions and collective remembering -- Martin Luther King Day, Cesar Chavez Day, St. Patrick's Day -- this one's ours. And it is widely recognized as one that is the most fun for the most people.

Days that include proclamations, festivals, parades, parties, picnics and political actions are an American tradition. It's the way Americans call out to each other and to their neighbors, friends, families and larger city surround: "We're here. We are a unique and valuable part of the nation's fabric. We are your neighbors, your doctors, your businessmen and women, your volunteers, members of your congregations, your contractors, your armed services, your educators, your police, your nurses, your politicians, your sons and daughters and grandchildren."

On such days of celebration and remembering, we celebrate together how far a community has come and how much they have contributed, we remember all those who have fought the good fight and have inspired us to do more, and we are outraged together at how far we still have to go to achieve full equality and justice.

Across the last decade there has been much discussion of the continued relevance and meaning of Pride celebrations. My intent is not to rehash all that here. Instead, it's to say that most of that discussion is really about "how" to celebrate and protest, not whether we should. It's also about who "needs" to celebrate.

We are one of the most diverse communities in the nation. We are business owners and working-class folks. We are brown, black, red, white and a mixture of all. We are seniors, middle-aged, young adults, high-schoolers, parents, grandparents and babies. We are democrats, republicans and decline-to-states. We are progressive, centrist and conservative. We are men, women, transgender and those who refuse binary gender labels. We are gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and have lots of heterosexual friends and family members. We are leather-men and women, bears, drag queens, businessmen and more vanilla-types.

That's a whole lot of awesome and incredible diversity, and it makes for a zillion different ways to celebrate Pride.

Not all of us enjoy parades. Not all of us love politics and actions. Some of us aren't fond of any kind of sexy public displays or loud music. Some of us don't care for huge parties. Others of us love the chance to celebrate a sex-positive and embracing message, love the celebration of the amazing electoral power we have come to possess in some places. Others love private pool parties with friends, neighbors and family. Some people own a thousand rainbow flags. Others have just one they courageously put out twice a year (Pride and Harvey Milk Day) in their more conservative suburban neighborhoods.

And some of us love all of it, love the view and vision of all those different kinds of people marching together, or watching together as a crowd of 200,000.

And somewhere in that crowd are way more than a handful of folks, often on the edges, who have never before seen the pride, the power and the joyful celebration and affirmation of LGBT persons. Too often those of us privileged to have seen it a thousand times, privileged to be connected to community, fail to see or remember the quiet tears of the closeted or fearful seniors and youth, and the joyful wonder of feeling the love and hope for the first time.

So however you like to celebrate, to remember, to protest or to live, join us Pride weekend in your own way, with your own style and tradition…and feel the love and the celebration of all of who we are.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Test and Treat…if we are serious about defeating the spread of HIV/AIDS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the first mention of the disease we will later call HIV in June 1981. Thirty years later, the worldwide pandemic is not over, not globally, not in the United States, and not locally. That means many of us have lived our entire adult lives under the specter of HIV. And yet, with all the progress and all the innovations:

• More than one million people are living with HIV in the United States.

• 56,300 Americans become newly infected with HIV each year.

• Every nine and a half minutes, someone in the United States is infected with the HIV virus.

• More than 640,000 people living with HIV -- many of whom know their status -- are not in medical care or taking life-saving medications. This also means their viral loads are not yet “undetectable,” making it easier to transmit the virus.

• One in five (20%) of those people who are living with HIV are unaware they have the disease, and unaware of their potential to infect others.

• Today, HIV/AIDS continues to devastate some of our nation’s communities: men who have sex with men (MSM), communities of color (especially African-Americans, who, despite being only 12% of the population represent almost 50% of new infections), women (27% of new infections) and low-income individuals and families.
Looking backward helps us remember and understand the dark devastation and loss of the years before protease inhibitors and the difference made by life-saving, life-prolonging drugs. Looking at today’s statistics remind us of where we are… and what we have not yet achieved. Looking forward from here is the work of understanding and implementing an action plan for HIV/AIDS for the next generation.

One strategy critical to the success of defeating the virus is the Test & Treat strategy. HIV is a communicable disease. Defeating it means reducing the possibility of transmission to another person.

Reducing transmission means ensuring that the people who become infected are able to access the medications and care that will reduce their viral loads to undetectable – making it very difficult to transmit the virus. That means everybody has to testregularly and routinely – and then re-test 6-12 months later. That’s not happening nearly enough.

HIV testing has to become routine, just like checking blood pressure, annual physicals, mammograms, pap smears, screens for prostate cancer and the other health tests we do routinely. That means testing has to be widely available, easily accessed, and affordable; not difficult to locate, nor shrouded in mystery, stigma and fear. One in five people who are infected don’t know it. We have to do better than that.
And the second half of the Test & Treat strategy is equally important – Treat. Once someone knows they have been infected they have to be connected to easily accessed, affordable care, including medications. As many as one in four of the people who know they are infected are not connected to care…which likely means their viral loads are NOT undetectable and the risk of transmission is high.

Test & Treat is vital and we can’t afford any more delays. We can’t afford to reduce HIV testing and outreach to the untested – in fact we need to increase it. We can’t afford cuts to HIV care and treatment or HIV medications – in fact we need to make it easier to get care. Some say we can’t afford it. Really? Let’s not keep kicking this can down the road. We can pay the costs of reducing infections and good public health policy now, or we can pay the enormous costs of treating full blown AIDS in hundreds of thousands more Americans later. Either way we’ll pay; let’s be smarter about it.

June 27, 2011 is an opportunity to help move the Test and Treat strategy forward – National HIV Testing Day. Go get tested, take your friends and family – make it routine, make it easy, de-mystify it. Take the rapid test and know the results in just 30 minutes…no more waiting around for 2 weeks. Some of the local HIV testing options can be found here, or just make a doctor’s appointment with your own health care provider.

Just do it …and bring the people you care about with you.