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“Don’t ask don’t tell”: Reflecting on civil rights

By Rutul Patel
Published: December 2010

After almost 17 years of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, the US senate voted on December 18 to repeal the policy which bans open gays and lesbians from serving in the Armed Forces.

“[The United States] is a working progress moving towards [its] ideals. I’m disappointed it took a while, but now we are [one step closer], history department head Robert Parlin said.

At one point in Newton there were no openly gay teachers and openly gay students were rare. But as the years progressed, with concentrated efforts to promote acceptance, homophobia and hatred dissolved, and gay teachers and students began to feel more comfortable in the community.

Parlin has been teaching at South for the last 25 years and has been openly gay for 19 of them. His friends and family thought that the general public would have a hard time dealing with an openly gay teacher.

“[At first,] people told me not to come out. They were worried for me, Parlin said “ Actually the exact opposite happened. I got closer to my students and parents were very supportive.

Now, with the help of eight Republicans, the Democrats removed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in a 65-31 vote.

“[The repeal] gives me more pride and hope for the rest of the LGBT community and for the legal rights of LGBT individuals, bisexual senior Rebecca Penzias said.

The future for gay rights looks as it did after same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts, bright and full of progress.

“Although I was too young to appreciate it at the time, when Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage, I remember excited family members discussing it because my lesbian aunts now had the right to marry in Massachusetts, Penzias said.

But the path to success was filled with obstacles. When South Stage performed the Laramie Project in 2005, recounting the murder of a gay university student in Wyoming, the Newton community faced the challenge of embracing new perspectives on homosexuality.

Meanwhile, the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) of Topeka, Kansas, a group infamous for its vocal hatred of homosexuality, got wind of South’s production and threatened to protest it. Though the WBC never followed through, the Newton community came together, ready to back South up.

The police, Representative Barney Frank, and counter-protesters were present in support of the play and the LGBT community. The audience wore yellow armbands in support of the equality message and decorated the school with banners that read “Love Happens and “Accept All.

“It was a wonderful thing that the community came together against homophobia. In a way, the church people are doing a service to help the community unite, Parlin said.

As the years passed gay tolerance reached new heights, culminating with both high schools hiring openly gay principals: Jennifer Price at North and Brian Salzer at South.

“This was just another example why sexual orientation doesn’t matter and that we hired two people who were lesbian and gay, respectively, but made great candidates nevertheless, Parlin said.

In 1992 a newly open Parlin and senior Matt Flinn started Newton’s first ever Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). The group planned activities that educated and enlightened people on gay rights.

People of all orientations in the community coming together was the grand vision of this GSA.

Transexual Bisexual Gay and Lesbian Awareness Day, the Day of Silence, Gay Pride Marches, and Transgender Remembrance day are just a few events that the GSA takes part in to promote gay rights. From year to year ,the number of members in the GSA varies but its message of equality, acceptance, and tolerance remains strong.

Both Parlin and members of the GSA agree that the next steps for gay rights would be the repeal of the defense of marriage act (DOMA as well as the passing of non-discrimination laws and a transgender rights act. DOMA is the act that if passed would make marriage legal solely between a man and woman.

“The federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage and so there are [unfair anti-gay] laws pressed upon us, Parlin said. Non-discrimination laws would make sure that people do not get fired from their jobs for their sexual orientation. It would make it illegal to discriminate against someone if they are part of the LGBT community.

“It would be nice just got over other people’s sexual preferences, said bisexual Senior Rachel Feynman. The transgender rights act would help to stop the harassment of transgender people.

“In some states it is not [criminally] illegal to harass transgender people, and that is wrong, Parlin said.

Seeing the progression of gay rights over many years, Parlin is ultimately happy with the results.

“It’s nice to know that this repeal wasn’t forced upon anyone. The study conducted showed that it’s not a problem. One of the coolest things is that 8 in 10 Americans think gays should be allowed to serve, he said.

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