Published in: July-August 2004 issue.


Don’t Ask!  The policy known as “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was supposed to end the prohibition on gay and lesbian service in the military, but in reality the number of people discharged for being “gay” (or for saying they were) actually climbed for most of the decade after its adoption in 1994. All that changed after 9/11/2001, for the simple reason that the U.S. military could no longer afford to lose talented soldiers as it embarked upon one, then two, foreign wars. From a high of 1,273 in 2001, the number discharged dropped to 906 in 2002 and to 787 last year, reports the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. The paradox here is that the rationale for kicking gay people out is that they detract from military effectiveness (unit cohesion, etc.), yet it’s precisely when the military is on a war footing, when effectiveness is the order of the day, that it sees fit to retain more gay people in its ranks. The ineluctable conclusion is that the desire to eliminate gay people from the military has nothing to do with their ability to serve effectively, after all.

Hippocratic Hypocrisy  One has to be impressed by the inventiveness, the sheer technical virtuosity, with which the religious Right attacks the problem of undermining the freedom of gay people and others they don’t like. The latest ploy is the creation of a “conscientious objector” status for physicians that would allow them to withhold treatment from people if they have some moral objection to the treatment being sought. Hippocratic Oath be damned: at least one state, Michigan, seems (at press time) poised to enact just such a bill. Supporters say it will allow doctors to refuse to perform abortions, prescribe morning-after pills, or take advantage of stem-cell research. But Michigan’s only openly gay legislator, Chris Kolb, sees “a loophole big enough to drive a Mack truck through.” The fear is that the law is so broadly worded that it would allow doctors to refuse treatment, say, to an HIV patient or to any gay person based on a “conscientious objection” to their “lifestyle.” Kolb’s suspicions have been fueled by the refusal of the bill’s supporters, most of them Republicans, to add a clause outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation. Then there’s the fact that the bill is the handiwork of the religious Right, which seems to have found a new tactic in its war on equality—and plans to go national with it.

Another Heartthrob Bites the Dust  The English Patient—first a bestselling book, then a blockbuster movie—tells the story of the love affair between Laszlo Almasy and a beautiful Englishwoman in the north African desert. The book’s author, Michael Ondaatje, based the character of Almasy on an English soldier who died tragically under similar circumstances in World War II. Similar, but not identical, for it seems the real Almasy was a gay man whose fateful love affair was with a Nazi soldier who was killed by a landmine—this, according to a new book by John Bierman, a former correspondent with the BBC. Comments Bierman on the switch: “What’s odd about Ondaatje’s book is that he chose a real person for Almasy and yet made him so very different from what he actually was.” In other words, weren’t there any straight heroes out there that could have fit the bill of romantic hero? Actually, this sort of thing has been going on ever since Lord Byron became the great romantic heartthrob of 19th-century women (and some men). And surely the two greatest romantic heroes of the last century were Lawrence of Arabia and Rudolph Valentino, both of whom were—well, you know. (James Dean, anyone?) So maybe it really does take a gay man to become the stuff of legend for the hetero hero at his most romantic.

And God Taketh Away…  A Maryland state legislator made news earlier this year when, at a hearing for a bill that would prohibit same-sex marriage, she demanded to know if witnesses “believe in God.” Carmen Amedori (R–Carroll County), who sits in Maryland’s House of Delegates, proceeded to put this question to each of the gay and lesbian witnesses that testified before her committee, and insisted on an answer. Asking this question at government hearings is considered improper for First Amendment reasons, so Amedori’s antics had already made the local news. But then it was learned that the woman who had pontificated about marriage being a “God-given institution” in the House had been served a restraining order in her own house—by her husband—for attempting to shoot the couple’s daughter Nicole. In the 1998 “Petition for Protection,” filed by Amedori’s first husband, Robert DePaola, he asserted that “Nicole was hit many times by Carmen with a belt inside their home,” and that “Carmen also told Nicole that she had to be restrained by her husband ‘from taking a gun into the movie theater and shooting her.’” Needless to say, Amedori’s marriage to DePaola was not long for this world, and in fact she has since remarried. She still insists that marriage is a God-given institution. It’s only husbands that come and go.

For Art’s Sake  A publisher has canceled plans to reissue a racy novel by Lynne Cheney, wife of the Vice President. New American Library, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, was going to reprint Sisters, a historical romance published in 1981 that includes brothels, attempted rapes, and a lesbian love affair, but reversed itself at the last minute. Here’s a widely circulated quote from the book that gives a flavor of the latter theme: “Let us go away together, away from the anger and imperatives of men. There will be only the two of us, and we shall linger through long afternoons of sweet retirement. In the evenings I shall read to you while you work your cross-stitch in the firelight. And then we shall go to bed, our bed, my dearest girl.” The book’s cancellation flies against the iron law of publishing, which is that if you’ve got a sure-fire money-maker on your hands, you run with it. Okay, so the book is something of an embarrassment for the Bush administration in an election year; we understand. What’s odd is that a spokesperson for Penguin even bothered to offer an excuse for the cancellation that had nothing to do with either money or politics, saying it was because the book doesn’t represent the author’s “best work.” So it’s all about the art! (And the war in Iraq is all about democracy.) Needless to say, the contro has only stimulated interest in the book, for which there’s a lively market on the Internet, while Mrs. Cheney’s text has been given a new life in a satirical reading at the New York Theatre Workshop.