The Struggle for Ethnic Studies

On Tuesday, students in Arizona chained themselves together and occupied the board room where the Tucson Unified School District meeting was to be held. They opposed a scheduled vote which would have further marginalized their Mexican American Studies program. The same day, at UC Berkeley, students began a multi-day protest and hunger strike to protect Ethnic Studies, responding to the forced consolidation and downsizing plan of the administration.

It’s not political

There’s a lot to “take away” from the past few days of news and politics. The overriding lesson, for me anyways, is this:

The word “terrorist” is journalistic & political shorthand for a “nonwhite” person who perpetrates an act of political violence.

Jared Lee Loughner has been effectively defended left and (largely) right for two days now. Talking heads are chastising anyone who dares use the word “political” when referring to the assassination of a federal judge and attempted assassination of a member of Congress. Others are arguing anyone who does such a heinous thing can’t be of “sound mind,” invoking a level of compassion for him that is shocking considering the sentiment’s absence from most political discourse.

Yes, even the fantastically guilty enjoy the greatest of American privileges:


Why I Don’t Care (Much) About Hate Speech

Yesterday’s tragedy in Arizona is beginning to foster a national discussion on “hate speech” and “civility” in politics.  There is nothing inherently wrong in this.  I’d say its even welcome from the millions of Americans who feel politics has grown especially vitriolic in the past decade.

I do worry that too much will be given to such a discussion, as if the tragedy itself is the direct result of our political discourse.  It is an undeniable factor in what occurred, but focusing on “discourse” seems to hide as much as it clarifies for me.

WWII era poster, published by Seagram-Distillers Corp.

One of the disturbing trends in politics from the Right in the past generation has been a willingness to engage in what I call an inflammatory rhetoric of absolutism.  (Actually, “willingness” might be a soft word to use in this case because I think we have every reason to believe that it is a political tactic that is knowingly organized in its use.)  This language feeds off the idea of crisis, turning political debate into a “war.”  It frames the opposition as a threat to “your way of life,” not as a group of people with different ideas, analyses, or philosophies than you, but as “traitors” to the country.

This is where the absolutism comes into play.  In this way of thinking, there are only two ways to think: your way and the wrong way.  People who oppose you or don’t agree with you are “un-American”; they are “Socialists” and “Communists”; they are trying to “ruin our great country” and to “take away all that makes us great.”

All of the above terms (and more) are employed to end debate by excluding the authority of the opposing side to speak.  For example, somebody who advocates “un-American” ideas can not be rationally listened to.  So these characterizations become rhetorical tools to limit debate rather than foster it.  This is another form of its absolutism.

Of course, much of their language is imbued with the rhetoric of danger and violence, where people are encouraged to “take our country back” with allusions made to revolution, physical violence, death and blood, and the like.  These particular linguistic tactics convey the sense of urgency and crisis inherent in their absolutism.

Now this might seem like a defense of the current debate about rhetoric and language, but it’s not.

You see, while I don’t like to hear this language, and while I also think it contributes nothing positive to our political process, I don’t fear it or its use.  As a historian of the 20th century, I can’t tell you how many times the Right has policed activities of the Left on the basis of language.  Ideas and ideals like “civility” are as dangerous as ones of “radicalism” or “un-Americanism.”  The danger does not lie in these forms of debate and rhetoric but in the heavy-handed power that gets to label them and define them as outside the “appropriate” parameters of participation in our political system.

The danger is inherent in the ways power assigns “acceptability” and “unacceptability” to forms of discourse, in effect delineating who can and can not participate in the political system.

I don’t fear language. I do fear many of the ideas behind language.  I do fear many of the systems of belief which undergird our current political system and the positions of certain people in power.  But even ideas are not the problem.

Yesterday’s tragedy in Arizona wasn’t caused by language.  It was caused by the implementation of nihilistic ideas into our political system, comfortably and callously promoted by certain members of the Republican Party.  Language and ideas aren’t the real problem, except in how they let us understand the ways our system of power operates.  They become reflections of the problem in their use as rationalizing systems for power.

I don’t care if people go around saying they think Health Care for children is “the most un-American piece of legislation ever passed.”  It is hyperbole.  It is irrational and untrue.  If somebody actually believes it they are likely to be ill-informed.  But I don’t care if they say it or even believe it.

I do care when a mainstream political party who is in power makes a decision to deliberately use this hyperbole as a political tool to gain more power.  I do care when they implement their absolutism as the foundation of political debate in this country.

Too many people in the GOP have been willingly promoting this nihilistic political analysis in order to gain a greater position in the government.  I don’t doubt there are many ill-educated or dimwitted Congresspeople who actually believe Obama is trying to dismantle the country, but most of them do not.  Most who are engaging in and promoting these ways of thinking have been doing so while know all along that they lack credible foundation.

Most of the GOP opposes Obama’s health care plan because they want to defend the profits of tremendously powerful corporations and because they don’t want a Democrat in the White House.  As they nurture a context of crises and political radicalism they do so for the most traditional of reasons–to protect power.

And this is the real danger.  This empty and inflammatory political rhetoric is not the reflection of a real political analysis of our present but a tool in order to protect the status quo.  People are being mobilized into a political frenzy by people who are trying to limit their real political efficacy.

Congresswoman Gifford wasn’t shot because of rhetoric.  She was shot because people in power have made stupidity seem rational, just to protect the powers they serve.

Whether or not politicians believe in white supremacy, vigilantism, armed revolution, that “God hates fags,” or that Obama is a muslim is irrelevant in our present situation.  Whether or not they advocate for the killing of Democrats is also.  But each must ask themselves if they are comfortable attracting the support of people who do.  Each politician must account for their own political ways of thinking which resonate with the kinds of movements that are the real threat to our democracy.

We lose much more than we gain when we live in a society that wants to police rhetoric for inclusion and exclusion in our political realm.  That absolutism is bad on both sides of the spectrum.

As a democratic society, we have an obligation to openly debate policy, sometimes by confronting radical, revolutionary, fringe, or extreme views.  But this isn’t what we have been doing.  Instead, we’ve been using these views as a priori conclusions in order to stifle the free exchange of ideas.  We’ve been subverting the heart of the democratic process–the free and open exchange of ideas–by limiting that debate with a fascist tactic of absolutism.

One cannot openly advocate and institutionalize a philosophy of absolutism, crisis, and panic and not take responsibility for the results.  Those who have done so must now face the consequences.  If those entail a national litmus test for “civil” and “uncivil” ideas–an emboldened absolutism–then we have all lost.

Obama and Brewer Discuss Immigration

From our habitually Clintonian moderate President of these United States:

Office of the Press Secretary

June 3, 2010


The President had a good meeting with Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona at the White House today to discuss a range of critical issues of mutual interest, including the President’s comprehensive plan to secure the Southwest border and the unprecedented resources his Administration has devoted to that effort. The President and Governor Brewer also discussed the President’s decision to deploy up to an additional 1,200 requirements-based National Guard troops to the border and his upcoming request to Congress of $500 million in supplemental funds for enhanced border protection and law enforcement activities as part of that integrated strategy.  The President listened to Governor Brewer’s concerns, and noted that the Administration’s ongoing border protection and security efforts have increased pressure on illegal trafficking organizations through record seizures of illegal weapons and bulk cash transiting from the United States to Mexico, resulted in significant seizures of illegal drugs headed into the United States, lowered the average violent crime statistics in states along the Southwest Border, and reduced illegal immigration into the United States.

Despite the significant improvements, the President acknowledged the understandable frustration that all Americans share about the broken immigration system, and the President and Governor agreed that the lack of action to fix the broken system at the federal level is unacceptable.  As he did at the recent meeting with Senate Republicans, the President underscored that security measures alone won’t fix the broken borders, there needs to be comprehensive immigration reform that includes:  lasting and dedicated resources by which to secure our borders and make our communities safer; holding unscrupulous employers accountable who hire workers illegally and exploit them and providing clear guidance for the many employers who want to play by the rules; and requiring those who have come here illegally to pay a fine, pay back taxes, learn English, and get right with the law.  The President urged Governor Brewer to be his partner in working in a bipartisan manner on comprehensive immigration reform to implement the type of smart, sensible, and effective solutions the American people expect and deserve from their federal government. Regarding Arizona law SB1070, the President reiterated his concern with the measure, including that a patchwork of different state immigration regulations around the country would interfere with the federal government’s responsibility to set and enforce immigration policy.

Monday Blues

Not a blues in the traditional musical sense of the term, but emotionally…all the way.  The amazingly spectacular Nina Simone in a 1964 live recording.  Dedicated to the great state of Arizona.

Arizona is a symptom, not the problem

Shall I add to the chorus of the outraged and appalled? Sometimes both sentiments find their expression in angry silence. They’ve been with me for a week now, on my mind and in my gut, never far from reach, finding connections to everything I discuss on a daily basis yet never escaping for anything more than a disappointed shake of the head and some casual words about “dehumanization.”

But I need to say something, something I need to acknowledge:

I’m glad it happened.

Racism is relentless when you open your eyes and your mind to its presence and its structure. To understand it in all its simplicity and its complexity is to agree to carry the burden of knowing. And it will make you crazy. It will eat away at your humanity. It will frame a struggle for you and for those who you love and seek to protect. And it will create moments of doubt, not about whether or not it is there, but whether or not it was even worth it to know it in the first place.

There is a cool comfort in seeing a shadow eclipsed by its form, in watching a ghost become tangible, so real that you can smell it. Arizona did us a favor. It certainly did.

But let’s not pretend it took them a whole lotta of anything to do it. What happened in Arizona is a travesty. But I won’t pretend it is a shock. If it is to you, I am sorry. I open my arms to you and welcome you to the flock. But there is a danger is thinking what Arizona did–and in all fairness, I know it is only part of Arizona that did it, but the word “Arizona” has now come to mean much more than them, or you–there is a danger in thinking that they are unique by the course they have chosen to follow. They are not an aberration, or an exception. They didn’t do this because they had more courage to expose their true feelings and let us all know what they really think. It’s all nothing but a context of numbers, and districts, and money, and junk.

But they speak for more than themselves.

In many sad, sad, ways, even those who are standing up to oppose them, those brave souls who, unlike me, have no hesitation to share their wounds with others, even they are helping to prop up the invisible masses for whom Arizona speaks. I won’t participate in building the edifice of safety for them to further incubate their ignorance. I am reminded of the beautiful and stark truth of Audre Lorde who reminded us that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

And so, my friends, I will say to you that I don’t give a damn if 100 (or 100,000!) naturalized citizens or native-born citizens of this country get questioned, harassed, or even detained as a result of this law and their brown flesh. I don’t. Because the problem, the real problem, isn’t that “innocents” will be victimized by this law. The problem is who this law depicts as the unquestioned “guilty.”

If this law were free of the consequence of racial profiling it would still disgust me as it does. This law is wrong for the way it negates the humanity of millions of people who do the work that allows us to live as we do. It is wrong for the way it succumbs to the ignorance of centuries of hate and fear. It is wrong for the way it clings to the worst that lives within us, and then tells people–hungry people, confused people, fearful people–that it is right, patriotic, good, and moral to feel as they do.

And that’s why we’re lucky. Because the next time we decide to take a risk and share our truth, to extend ourselves and expose ourselves so that others might learn the shape and substance of “marginalization,” the next time we do that, and all we get in return is a bright-eyed smile of disbelief. . .

Well, now, who really is going to look the fool?

“A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons.”
–Bishop Desmond Tutu

Mexicans after the U.S.-Mexican War

Beginning in spring 1846, after various diplomatic, informal economic, and unofficial militaristic attempts to take and occupy part of Mexico’s northern frontier, the U.S. declared war on its southern neighbor.  A decade after their politically unresolved dispute over Tejas, this war lasted for about one and a half years and resulted in the transfer of almost half of Mexico’s territory to the United States.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848 and ratified by both nations the subsequent spring, agreed to a payment of $15 million for the lost territory; settled the dispute over Texas in the favor of the United States; made stipulations about the land transfer; and detailed responsibilities and obligations regarding the actions of the Native Americans living on much of that land (many of whom never recognized a “foreign” power sovereignty over them and, accordingly, were hostile to Mexico and the United States).  The Treaty also detailed what was to become of the Mexicans living in the newly conquered territories.

Mexicans in the now occupied lands were to be protected under the laws of the United States and the Treaty.  They retained the right to their language, religion, and culture.  Their property and land was protected by the law.  As for citizenship, they were offered one of three options: 1) declare their intent to retain Mexican citizenship; 2) leave to Mexico; or 3) become U.S. citizens by declaration or by doing nothing.

This was the first time in U.S. history that citizenship was extended to a population that was not formally recognized as “white” by the federal government.

Two generations later, most Mexicans living in the U.S. no longer held title to their lands and found their cultural way of life increasingly under attack as U.S. white supremacy came to predominate.  In California, as land transferred from Mexican to Euro-American hands, a very racially-motivated Workingman’s Party dominated the call for a Constitutional Convention.  In 1879, that new Constitution not only made Chinese immigration illegal (the primary cause of the Party), but it also destroyed the legal protections Mexicans once enjoyed, rights promised to them in the 1848 Treaty.  California once required Spanish and English as the languages of it official business.  Now the new Constitution followed the already common practice of an English language state.

The “nation of laws” violated international and domestic laws in order to secure a democracy for some (white, European, male) at the expense of others (Mexican and nonwhite).

For more information, see:
Racial Fault Lines: The Historical Origins of White Supremacy in California (Almaguer);
Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race (Gomez); and
Border Citizens: The Making of Indians, Mexicans, and Anglos in Arizona (Meeks)

For more details on life for Mexicans in California after the war, see the classic Decline of the Californios: A Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californias, 1846-1890 (Pitts).  The newer Negotiating Conquest: Gender and Power in California, 1770s to 1880s (Chavez-Garcia), which pays particular attention to issues of gender and sexuality, is also an excellent source.


Courts Leave Arizona’s Immigration Laws Alone

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to hear any challenges to Arizona’s state laws penalizing businesses who “knowingly hire” undocumented or unauthorized workers.

Here are the few details from the Arizona Republic:

In September, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law in ruling that the state could suspend or revoke the business licenses of employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers.

On Monday, a larger sampling of 9th Circuit judges declined further review of the case.

Arizona’s employer-sanctions law took effect in January 2008. To date, no employers have been prosecuted under the law.

Opponents of the statute – including the Arizona Contractors Association, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Chicanos Por La Causa – remain hopeful that it will be struck down. They point to employer-sanctions laws in other states that await court rulings regarding their constitutionality, and a possible future appeal of state-imposed immigration laws to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The opinion of the court can be downloaded here.

The plaintiffs had argued Arizona’s laws violate federal laws by going further in penalizing employers than IRCA does, and by compelling businesses to use the E-Verify system (even though federal laws make it an option only). They also argued these laws have the potential to cause discriminatory hiring practices.

The court didn’t disagree as much as they emphasized the appeal was really based on supposition, since no actual discrimination is being alleged and no employer had been deprived of their state license under the law.

They did say there was no overstepping by Arizona regarding the compulsory use of E-Verify, despite its persistent problems.

Transgender Veterans

From the Arizona Daily Star comes this fascinating story about transgender veterans and the struggles they face both in and out of the military.  The reporter, Carol Ann Alaimo, published a follow-up story on the VA’s policy banning transsexual surgeries at their hospitals.

Transgender vets a hidden population

Men with gender struggles drawn to macho military

By Carol Ann Alaimo


In a city that prides itself on respect for military veterans, scorn is a fact of life for former Army captain Erin Russ.

Neighbors gawk when she takes out the trash. At local malls, teenagers titter and hiss as the strapping ex-infantry officer shops for cashmere and heels.

Even simple errands can be a source of angst for Russ, who was born a man but now lives as a woman.

Decades after former soldier Christine Jorgensen stunned 1950s America by undergoing a sex change, a small army of veterans in similar straits has quietly sprung up in Tucson and around the country.

Officially, the Pentagon bans transsexuals — those who believe they were born with the wrong male or female parts — from serving.

Yet some research suggests there may be a higher prevalence in the military than in society at large. That’s because some young men, conflicted over their feminine feelings, enlist to try to escape them, the research found.

Advocates refer to these former troops as “invisible” veterans.

“This is something I think nobody wants to talk about,” said Russ, 52. “Transgender veterans basically make other people rethink their preconceived ideas of what a veteran is. We don’t just push the envelope — we crumple it up and throw it away.”

Mocked by strangers and often shortchanged by the veterans health-care system, these ex-troops say they get little of the respect accorded to those they served alongside.

“Serious medical condition”

No one knows for sure how many veterans are affected by “gender identity disorder,” which the American Medical Association calls “a serious medical condition . . . which causes intense emotional pain and suffering.”

Because prejudice against them is so prevalent, many transgender veterans choose to live in “stealth” mode — quietly trying to blend into society.

The Southern Arizona VA Health Care System sees close to 50 former troops who are transsexual or are diagnosed with gender disorder, many of them in various states of transition from their birth sex. And there may be dozens more who aren’t registered for care with the VA, local advocates say.

A national group, the Transgender American Veterans Association, estimates that somewhere around 300,000 transgender people have served, or now serve, in the U.S. military. That’s roughly 1 percent of the country’s nearly 27 million veterans and 2.2 million active-duty and reserve troops.

Transgender people aren’t eligible to serve because they fall under a policy that excludes those with “learning, psychiatric and behavioral disorders,” said Douglas Smith, a spokesman for U.S. Army recruiting command.

Yet one of the few studies ever published on the topic said the U.S. military probably has more of them in its ranks than the percentage in the general population.

A study titled “Transsexuals in the Military: Flight Into Hypermasculinity” — a classic still cited in college texts on gender issues — was written in 1988 by Dr. George R. Brown, then an Air Force captain and psychiatrist at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Brown found it curious that in a three-year period at the Midwestern base, he came across 11 men — eight current and former military, the rest civilians such as Defense Department staffers — all seeking treatment to become women.

Transsexuality is an issue “believed by many not to exist” in the armed forces, he noted. Yet each veteran told him nearly the same thing: He had enlisted hoping to “become a real man.”

Brown also noted that late adolescence — the stage when cross-gender feelings can become so confusing that some feel an urgent need to escape them — coincides with the prime recruiting age for the predominantly male U.S. military.

Because of that, he said, the “prevalence of transsexualism in the armed forces may actually be much higher than in the civilian population.”

Brown’s findings ring true for Dr. Jennifer Vanderleest, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine — one of the few in the country where future doctors are trained on the medical needs of transgender patients.

Vanderleest conducts that training. She has treated more than 100 transgender people in Tucson, including many veterans who “are very proud of their military service,” she said.

Many wait decades before seeking medical help, she said. Avoidance is common because confronting the truth can be wrenching in a culture that often is hostile.

“How can you process what is going on with you internally when you are operating in a world where you can’t be who you are?” she asked, describing their dilemma.

In America and many other countries, military careers are killed by such admissions.

Don’t ask, don’t tell — the U.S. policy on gay and lesbian personnel — doesn’t cover transgender troops, who typically are forced out if discovered. A few Western militaries, though — including Canada and the United Kingdom — welcome their service and even pay for their sex-change surgeries.

“Something was different”

Transgender people often sense their predicaments at a young age, Vanderleest said.

That’s how it was for Russ, the former Army captain who has been living full time as a female since 2001. Even as a preschooler, she said, “I knew something was different about me.”

Joining the military was one action in a long list of things — playing football, becoming an Eagle Scout, getting married and becoming a father — that Russ hoped would still the inner sense of being born with the wrong anatomy.

“You think if you do enough things of a male nature, then you will become male, and the female thoughts will go away.”

Growing up in Syracuse, N.Y., in a 1950s neighborhood chock- full of other boys, Russ chose to play with girls and was deemed “a sissy.”

In junior high, Russ started cross-dressing in secret, a practice that would continue for years as the young man wrestled with the turmoil between who he believed he was and who he pretended to be.

Commissioned as an Army officer in 1979, Russ served a total of 11 years in the reserves and on active duty, and planned to stay on until retirement. But in 1990, Russ said, “my career came to a screeching halt.”

While stationed at Fort Wainwright in Alaska, the captain, off-duty and dressed as a woman, was stopped by civilian police for a driving violation. The traffic cop “wrote a page-long report on how I was dressed and gave a copy to the military,” Russ said.

“On Monday morning, I was called into the commander’s office and told I was going to be court-martialed for conduct unbecoming an officer.”

Russ was allowed to resign honorably and, after a painful divorce, came to Tucson a few years later. “At that point, I was thinking, ‘I can’t go on like this.'”

So she grew her hair long and started going to the veterans hospital for hormone treatments, which softened her skin and swelled her breasts.

She turned to the Bible for comfort — she leads a monthly Bible study for transgender people — and got therapy to help her cope.

Then, ignoring the neighbors’ stares, the 6-foot-2 former soldier walked out her front door and started living a new life.

“People usually don’t change until the pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of changing,” Russ said. “For me, the pain of staying the same was overwhelming.”

Risk of suicide

For some, suicide starts to seem like the best solution.

Diane Steen, an Air Force veteran who served as a man and now is a woman, often thought of killing herself.

“I was suicidal for most of my adult life. It’s a very lonely journey to live a lie,” said Steen, a youthful 64-year-old who has been volunteering at Tucson’s veterans hospital since 2004.

Like Russ, Steen sensed early that something was amiss, but he had no words to describe it growing up in 1940s Indiana.

By age 6, Steen, then a little boy named Robert, was cross-dressing in outfits borrowed from cousins. Before long, he was sneaking his mother’s lipstick.

In 1952, when Steen was in third grade, a bombshell hit America: Newspapers revealed that a male military veteran had gone to Europe for a sex-change operation and had come back as a woman — Christine Jorgensen.

The tale intrigued Steen.

“I heard the surgery cost $2,000 and I remember thinking to myself: ‘If I had $2,000, I would do that.’ Now why would a kid even think something like that?”

Decades passed before Steen allowed the thought to surface again. Through marriage, fatherhood and four years in the military, “I buried my transsexual self very deep,” she said.

Today, Jorgensen’s biography shares shelf space in Steen’s library with books on Civil War history. Her bedroom has mauve walls, a cream-colored velvet bedspread and a closet brimming with size 12 women’s wear.

Five years after her own sex- change surgery, “I am at peace,” Steen said.

Assaulted over gender

For former soldier Janey Kay, peace has been more elusive.

The two-tour Vietnam veteran moved to Tucson from Missouri in 2006 and hoped life would get easier after she decided to become a woman.

Last October outside Tucson Greyhound Park — eight months after undergoing sex-change surgery in Thailand — Kay was assaulted by a man who kicked and punched her, calling her a “drag queen” and a “faggot,” a police report said.

He also tore out two handfuls of Kay’s hair in the attack.

The suspect, a 48-year-old Tucson man, was charged on suspicion of assault. No trial date has been set.

Besides Kay’s diagnosis of gender-identity disorder, she suffers from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems that leave her vulnerable to mood swings. She also battles depression so severe that she’s been treated in the past with electroshock therapy, her medical records show.

Kay, 59, said her mental problems were aggravated by decades of living in the wrong body.

“I remember as young as 8 or 9 years old looking in the mirror and seeing a girl. I just repressed it and repressed it until, finally, I cracked.”

She enlisted in the military, she said, because she was terrified of the truth. “Joining the Army was an escape. I thought I could get away from it, but I could never escape.”

20 years in uniform

Mick Andoso of Tucson, now a bearded construction inspector, kept his secret for 20 years as a woman in the Air Force.

Andoso, 51, retired in 1995 as a first sergeant. Back then, Andoso’s name was Master Sgt. Brenda Weichelt — who in 1994 was named one of the service’s top airmen for her work at the military’s Defense Language Institute in California.

Andoso still has a copy of an Air Force Sergeants Association magazine describing the award, and photos taken with the service’s top brass. Also among the keepsakes is a letter from Brenda’s last commander.

“You are among the few rare exceptions whose absolute dedication to duty, commitment to excellence and genuine concern for your service and your fellow airmen, set you so far apart that I can never forget your outstanding achievements,” it said.

Andoso joined the service to obtain job skills and escape from a family that didn’t understand why Brenda, as a youngster, had always insisted she was a boy.

Once in uniform, “I had to resign myself that I couldn’t (become a male) because I loved the Air Force, and I would’ve had to give that up.”

Andoso still looks back fondly on his military days. But he’s disappointed by how the Air Force has treated him since he retired and switched genders.

A few years ago, after legally changing his name and gender, he said he went to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to ask for a new photo ID card to access base services for retirees. He showed a clerk a copy of his court order.

The D-M staffer said the Air Force doesn’t allow gender changes, Andoso recalled. “He was really rude. I got the impression he was disgusted by me.”

A D-M spokeswomen, 1st Lt. Mary Pekas, said Defense Department policy forbids gender changes in its records system. Department lawyers “reviewed that policy on several occasions and found it to be legally supportable,” Pekas said.

Andoso’s run-in is not surprising, said Monica Helms, a Vietnam-era Navy submariner and president of the Transgender American Veterans Association, a national group formed in 2003 to combat stigma against such veterans.

Transgender veterans often are disrespected at military bases, in the VA system and elsewhere in a society that professes to honor those who have served their nation, she said.

“Transgender people have fought in every war, shedding the same red American blood as every other person who has protected this nation,” Helms said.

“We have done our part to preserve the freedom of everyone in this country,” she said, “and we are proud to have served.”

You can access the second part of the two-part series, “VA Reviewing policy against transsexual surgery,” by clicking here.

Joe Arpaio’s Racist War Against Latinos

From the New York Times comes this editorial on the draconian (and horrifically offensive) tactics of Arizona’s modern incarnation of the old Southern racist lawman, Joe Arpaio.

October 20, 2008

A War on Janitors

The Wild West weirdness of the nation’s immigration policy reached new extremes last week in Mesa, Ariz., a Phoenix suburb where the county sheriff, Joe Arpaio, has gone off the rails as the self-appointed scourge of people without papers.

About 2 a.m. on Thursday, Sheriff Arpaio sent out a strike force of 30 detectives and 30 members of his volunteer “posse,” with semiautomatic weapons and dogs, to look for illegal janitors. Acting on a tip to the sheriff’s immigration hotline, they raided Mesa’s City Hall. They raided the public library. They raided the local headquarters of Management Cleaning Controls, the company with the janitorial contract for city buildings.

Three janitors were arrested at the library. Thirteen other people were picked up at their homes. All are “illegals,” according to the sheriff’s office, which keeps a running total of its immigration arrests on its Web site.

In most other parts of the country this would be seen as a stunning misuse of firepower, a waste of resources and a bizarre intrusion by one government agency onto another’s turf. Neither the mayor nor Mesa’s Police Department had been warned about the raids. And the city had already been investigating the company’s hiring.

But this happened in Maricopa County, where for months Sheriff Arpaio’s deputies have been staging high-profile sweeps, stopping drivers and pedestrians and demanding their papers. The crackdowns have terrorized and infuriated Latino residents of Phoenix, America’s fifth-largest city, where citizens say they have been stopped and harassed for the crime of being brown-skinned. They have spurred lawsuits and led the Phoenix mayor and others to plead for a federal investigation.

Sheriff Arpaio’s crusade is unconstitutional and repugnant. But it is where the rest of the country could be headed. Immigration has vanished from the presidential race, but its problems are still with us, distorted by opportunists and poisoned by fear.

The system has too few visas, too many shadow workers and no way to bring a huge and vital undocumented labor force into compliance with the law.

The new president will not only have to stand up for something better; he will have to stand against the repulsive scapegoating that hard-liners like Sheriff Arpaio, who is up for re-election next month, have waged for short-term political gain.

He will, in short, have to reassure immigrants, Latinos especially, that America’s welcome is secure.


Arpaio is only the most vivid and extreme demonstration of a new racial reality exemplified daily in this country, from major cities like Los Angeles to towns like Potsville, Iowa.  It is time more of us spoke out against such human rights abuses, in particular these kinds that proclaim their rightness in their adherence to laws.  They detract from any meaningful reform policies relating to the migration of international labor, nurture a climate of fear and repression among Latinos, and violate the ideological spirit of our nation, in both law and substance.