Posts tagged ‘diversity’

Obama signs law to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

U.S. President Barack Obama gives a 'thumbs-up' sign after signing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010, at the Interior Department in Washington. (AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

U.S. President Barack Obama has signed a landmark law, reversing a longstanding policy that forced homosexuals serving in the American military to conceal their sexual orientation.

“Valor and sacrifice are no more limited by sexual orientation than they are by race, or by gender, or by religion or by creed,” Obama said in a speech to a capacity crowd gathered in a large auditorium at the Interior Department in Washington Wednesday.

“That’s why I believe it is the right thing to do for our military. That’s why I believe it is the right thing to do period,” he added.

While it will take some time for the repeal of the U.S. military’s infamous ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy to take effect, the signing nevertheless marks a political victory for the president who made the move one of his campaign pledges.

“No longer will our country be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans who were forced to leave the military regardless of their skills, no matter their bravery or zeal, no matter their years of exemplary performance because they happen to be gay,” Obama said to rousing applause.

“No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie or look over their shoulder in order to serve the country they love.”

The law tells American armed services to allow homosexuals to serve openly for the first time, but will only come into effect once implementation plans and guidelines covering everything from troop education to barracks arrangements have been finalized.

Lawmakers will also require assurances that the forces’ combat readiness will not be affected, as critics have charged.

In the meantime, the president can revel in achieving a goal he pledged during his 2008 campaign, and reiterated in this year’s State of the Union address.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Obama said at the time.

Since then, he’s come under fire for failing to move more quickly. But Obama has argued such a significant policy shift must be carefully planned.

After the Senate voted to approve the bill on Saturday, following earlier action by the House of Representatives, the four military service chiefs made it clear that the changes will still take time.

“The implementation and certification process will not happen immediately,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz wrote in an e-mail to airmen. “Meanwhile, the current law remains in effect. All Air Force members should conduct themselves accordingly.”

Once the new regulations are officially certified, implementation will begin 60 days later.

But in his speech Wednesday, Obama made it clear he believes little will change in the meantime for those service men and women who must keep their “secret” a while longer.

“As the first generation to serve openly in our armed forces you will stand for all those who came before you, and you will serve as role models to all who come after,” he said, noting the scores of closeted soldiers whose contribution has been historically unrecognized.

“I know you will fulfill this responsibility with integrity and honour, just as you have with every other mission with which you have been charged.”

The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy came into effect 17 years ago, as a compromise between the Pentagon and then-President Bill Clinton. Under those rules, any service member who openly declares he or she is gay risks formal discharge from the military.

At the time, it took just 40 days to train U.S. forces on the policy.

According to researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, at least 25 countries around the world — including Canada — allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military.

Racism on the TTC

“Circle the wagons.  The Injuns are comin’.”

Those seven words set off a cascade of feelings like a row of neatly placed dominos, toppled one after another.

My experience yesterday took place on the TTC.  The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has to be one of the most diverse environments in the city.  From TTC employees to TTC riders – an Anishinaabe can get lost among the beautiful brown faces.  It’s certainly not the place where one would expect to encounter an overtly racist comment – from a TTC employee no less.

But there I was – rushing to get to work and running a little late.  I bound down the stairs at Yonge-Bloor Station just missing the southbound subway.  I have about a minute before the next train arrives so I walk down to the end of the platform.

I stroll briskly down the platform thinking about the Billy Joel interview I had just heard on the Howard Stern Show.  Needless to say, I’m in a great mood.

As I cross the half-way mark down the platform, I hear two things.  First, I hear the train nearing the station behind me.  Second, I hear the laughter and carrying on from two uniformed TTC platform monitors.  These are the guys in the big burgundy TTC coats and the reflective safety singlet.  They are responsible for my safety and well-being.

Then I hear those seven words, from the white guy to his buddy, in a faux-southern drawl of a cowboy:

“Circle the wagons.  The Injuns are comin’.”  Then some laughter from the two men.

My immediate reaction was to smile and keep walking.  Then I make the realization of what I experienced.  Racism.

As I make the realization – I have to make the choice.  Do I shrug it off and keep walking?  Or do I stop, cause a scene and make a complaint?  I am already late for work.  So I decide to shrug if off.  After all – he was just trying to be funny.  We are subject to racial humour everyday – on TV, film even the aforementioned Howard Stern Show.  Besides, he was carrying on with his TTC buddy – who is laughing in hysterics.

I get on the train.

As the subway door closes, it immediately starts gnawing at me.  I regret my decision.  I’m riding the train looking at all those around me.  All those beautiful brown faces – who probably didn’t hear what I heard.  I’m thinking they are probably subject to their own forms of racism and everyday comments.  As I pass station-to-station, those thoughts and feelings fill my chest.

I should have said something.

But isn’t that always the case?  I’ve experienced similar situations and comments in the past.  Sometimes I choose to address it and correct it. Other times, I’m consumed by my own conflict and fear.  Sometimes I’m just not brave enough to say something.  Sometimes I’m more concerned about the offenders… getting them in trouble, or fired and what-not.

Later that morning, I arrive at Queen’s Park for the Louis Riel Day commemoration.  Ironically, the ceremony takes place in front of an official monument commemorating Ontario’s participation in the Northwest Rebellion and the various battles against the Métis resistance.  Speaker after speaker talk about racism, stereotypes and inequality.  A young Métis woman speaks about the shame that is still harboured in her family for being Aboriginal.  I’m so moved by her words, I blurt it out my experience to my friend Saga and then to her colleague Tamar.

At first there is laughter.  But then the stark realization of what it is.  They are mortified over the incident.  The fact that it was a TTC employee demands that it should be reported.  Unfortunately, I chose to leave hurt, beaten, regretful, angry… a victim among a sea of victims.

Those seven words, uttered for comedic affect, have such a profound effect.  Quite different from the seven words that we should all be living by:  Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Truth, Wisdom.  These are those gifts provided to us by the Seven Grandfathers.

Racism is alive and well.  Those of us in the minority are well aware of it.  Even in a multi-cultural environment of the great city of Toronto.  Deep in the bowels of the TTC – is an ugly monster that so many choose to ignore.

Sincerity vs. Disingenuousness

I’ve worked with quite a number of politicians over the years. During that time, I’ve met hundreds of them. I’m convinced, perhaps rather naively, that they all mean well. However, aside from the need for your vote and your money, they are all quite different. Some are brilliant while others are merely able. There are a few that seem so overwhelmed with their responsibility or their own ego, they are downright dim-witted.

For me, I can break down any politician into two categories. Category one: caring and sincere. Category two: disingenuous.

It’s those in category one that keep me motivated and willing to put in the hours throughout the campaign and election day. It’s those individuals in category two that fuels scepticism, even in me.

George Smitherman is a brash man. He’ll offer you a firm handshake and a smile but you’d better get down to business. That doesn’t mean he’s not a kind man either. The last time I seen him, he went out of his way to initiate a quick pleasant conversation with me on Bay Street.

Phil Fontaine is one of the most misunderstood people in politics. Honestly, he is one of the kindest, most sincere, giving person I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. I think I still owe him $20 bucks. But Phil’s detractors unfairly paint him as some sort of villain. That’s the furthest from the truth.

Both Phil Fontaine and George Smitherman have two completely different styles and personalities, but are still in category one: they are both caring and sincere.

John Beaucage, my former boss – is untouchable in this category. Kind, caring and sincere and means it.

I’ve recently moved into the riding of Thornhill, which is going to be an intense battleground when a federal election is called later this year. This is a perfect example of sincerity vs. disingenuousness.

Dr. Karen Mock, Liberal candidate for Thornhill

Dr. Karen Mock, Liberal candidate for Thornhill

KAREN MOCK

– is among the most sincere, visionary people I’ve come to know. Her smile, handshake and words mean a lot. She’ll take as much time as she can, just to get to know you and your issues. She polished but personable. I don’t expect these qualities to change in the near future.

Karen is a tireless advocate for anti-racism, human rights and diversity. She was Executive Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation as well as the National Director of League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada. She knows her stuff.

When asked about aboriginal issues, she knows them like the back of her hand. She knows about the growing socio-economic void. She knows, first hand, about racism faced by aboriginal people.

She is the personification of category one: kind, sincere and caring. To see her at work is to be inspired.

PETER KENT – is the Minister of State of Foreign Affairs for the Americas. He is the former anchor, reporter and correspondent for Global TV News in Toronto. He is polished and, I have to admit, a natural politician. However, having met him on more than a few occasions – he seems rehearsed – but not in an impressive way. It’s like his personality comes from years of TV practice.

A few months back, Jasmine, who just turned twelve, asked him about aboriginal issues at annual Thornhill Village Festival. He barely gave her the time of day and his response was not adequate, even for her. He was obviously not prepared to answer questions on aboriginal issues without a formal briefing from staff complete with prepared questions and answers.

Peter Kent is the personification of category two. On the surface he seems completely disingenuous – with a wink, smile and quick handshake to boot. Just enough to get the donation out of you and send you on your way.

But you can’t expect too much sincerity from the Harper Conservatives. We’ve all heard the words that folks like Harper use when the cameras aren’t on. To borrow a line from Michael Ignatieff, “there have always been two Harpers. The real Harper comes out when he thinks he can’t be heard.”

At least they are not the same kind of words used by Mike Harris, the king of the Conservative disingenuous. “those Fucking Indians…” If John Beaucage is at one end of the sincerity spectrum – Mike Harris is at the absolute other end.

However, not all conservatives are in category two. Tony Clement, the Minister of Industry is one of the hardest working, most genuine politicians I know. I’m happy to call him a friend. He always considers the public good in a positive, productive way.

I truly look forward to the next federal election and working with Dr. Karen Mock in Thornhill. I’ll also do my best to support Anthony Rota back home in Nipissing. Both are excellent examples of caring politicians who are most definitely cabinet material when the Liberals eventually take office. They are the reasons I continue to support the Liberal party and have hope for souls of politicians everywhere.

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